What You Should Really Be Looking For On A Nutrition Label

by Markham Heid

Yeah, yeah, you say a food’s nutritional value is important, but only 75% of people “glance at” or “rarely ever look at” nutrition labels on food, according to a new survey by Prevention and supplement company Centrum. Among those of us who do spend time studying it, calories and fat get the lion’s share of the attention, which—news flash, shoppers!—are not the two most important criterion to consider.
If this sounds like your shopping style, then your cart probably contains stuff you think is good for you but really isn’t, like diet soda, low-fat crackers or cookies, and pretzels. And you may be passing by items high in calories and fat such as nuts and olive oil that are actually healthful.
“Nutrition labels are unnecessarily complicated,” says Nyree Dardarian, MS, RD, director of the Center for Integrated Nutrition and Performance at Drexel University. “But if you know what to look for, you can find a lot of good information.”
Here, your 10-second strategy for digesting any food label:
1. Ingredients They’re organized in descending order from the most- to least-prevalent component. The fewer the ingredients the better, says Dardarian. And if you recognize—and can pronounce—all of them, that’s even better.
2. Serving size Any nutritional info you see is based on a single serving of the product. While this could be the whole package, it’s usually just a small portion. Even foods you’d normally finish in one sitting, such as a muffin, can be broken down into multiple servings, so it’s important to check to make you sure you know how much you’re eating. To avoid being misled, look at “Serving Size” and “Servings per Container.” Envision what a serving really is and then ask yourself how likely you are to eat just that.
3. Calories Generally, foods with fewer than 150 calories per serving are “low cal,” while those with more than 400 per serving are considered “high cal.”
4. Total Carbohydrate Unlike “Total Fat,” which can be deceptive because there are good fats and bad, carbs are pretty straightforward. If you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, buy products with 40 grams or less of “Total Carbohydrate” per serving.
5. Dietary Fiber and Sugars “Total Carbohydrate” is broken down into these two categories. Most of us don’t get enough rough stuff in our diet, so Dardarian recommends choosing higher fiber foods with 4 to 5 grams per serving. Conversely, sugars should comprise less than 25% of “Total Carbs.”
To keep all this straight, write this formula on your shopping list or save it to your smartphone: 1) Ingredients, 2) Serving Size, 3) Calories (<400), 4) Total Carbs (<40), 5) Fiber (4-5), 6) Sugars (<25% total carbs). (Of course, what you look for on a label also depends on your specific diet goals; if you have hypertension and your doctor wants you to limit salt, then add sodium to your watch-list.)
Keep in mind that most foods with nutrition labels are packaged products (snacks, cereals, desserts, dairy…) that shouldn’t fill more than 25% of your cart, says Dardarian. The rest should be label-less whole fruits, veggies, and lean proteins.


Posted by on Jan 12 2015. Filed under Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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