In your quest to be a healthy and fit you need to be a vigilant food detective. It’s not easy deciphering food labels. Without sounding too much like a conspiracy theorist, I think they do it on purpose.
I think the marketing people believe if they highlight the words “natural”, “light” or “reduced” on the label we, the consumer, won’t look any further than that. We will simply trust that the product is good for us, load up our carts and go on our merry way.
The problem is a lot of people do just that. This is where they get into trouble. You have to read the label and try to get the real story of what’s going on and into the food you’re buying. Here is my top 5 list of things to look for on food labels.
- Serving size
When you pick up what appears to be a single serve product, validate that before buying and eating. See if the Nutrition Facts actually state that the package contains one serving. More often than not what appears to be a single serving package of chips or beverage has at least two servings. Double the calories without really even noticing.
- Trans Fat
The label may say trans fat free, but to get the real story you need to read the ingredient list. If anywhere in the ingredient list you see a hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil, then the product contains trans fats. The catch is if there is less than .5 grams per serving they can legally claim it is trans fat free.
Check the Nutrition Facts for the amount of sodium per serving. The latest guidelines suggest somewhere between 1500 and 2300 mg of sodium per day. Pick up one of those “healthy” frozen entrees and you could easily be getting 1/3 of your recommend daily sodium intake from one place.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
This one seems to have a lot of controversy surrounding it these days. I say error on the side of caution and steer clear. The problem is it is in all sorts of unexpected places. For example, ketchup, canned beans, lite yogurt and pancake syrup. This is one you can’t assume isn’t there just because the product isn’t a sweet treat.
- Fiber and whole grains
These are things you want! Often we see wheat and assume fiber and whole grains are there. It’s critical to check two things: the actual grams of fiber per serving and where the whole grains are listed on the ingredient list. I’ve seen whole wheat breads with less than one gram of fiber per slice, I say shoot for 3 per slice. Make sure the whole grain ingredient is within the first 5 on the ingredient list, not somewhere near end.
Remember to look for these 5 things on your next shopping trip. I would love to hear any additional tips you have for navigating the mysteries of food labels.