Whether you have a health condition that requires you to follow a strict diet or you simply want to lead a healthier and more wholesome existence, it’s handy to know how to read food labels. Unfortunately, and despite numerous regulations, manufacturers use deceiving tactics to make their processed and unhealthy foods seem anything but. So that you don’t fall for these tricks, the following guide will teach you how to read food labels the correct way.
First and Foremost, Ignore the Claims on the Front
Whether you’re buying cereal or milk, frozen lasagna or dry noodles, do not let the claims on the front of the packaging deceive you. The very purpose of front-of-packaging labeling is to draw you in and convince you to throw an item in your cart. There are very few regulations regarding what a manufacturer may or may not put on what are essentially marketing materials, and it is not uncommon for box faces to contain misleading or downright false health claims. Before you purchase an item, always read the labels first.
Look at the Serving Size
The serving size is typically listed at the top of the food label, right below the “Nutrition Facts” label. The serving size is important, as all the nutrient amounts on the label, down to the calories, refer to the serving size. For instance, if the serving size is one cup and the calories say “280,” it means there are 280 calories per cup, not per box. The label should also include the number of servings per box, which can range from one to 10 or more.
Check Out the Calories
For most people, the number of calories per serving is the next most important bit of information. As such, the calorie info is typically located right below the serving amount information.
How many calories you must consume on a daily basis to maintain a healthy body weight depends on several factors, including your age, gender, weight, height and levels of physical activity. However, standard nutritional advice maintains that 2,000 calories per day is a healthy guideline to follow.
Study the Ingredients
This is where food labels can get tricky … Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest amounts. Given this information, a good rule of thumb to follow is to scan the first three ingredients. This is what you will be consuming most of if you buy the product. If the list of ingredients is long, you can assume it is highly processed and, therefore, unhealthy.
Ideally, the first three ingredients should contain two to three whole foods. If the list begins with ingredients such as any type of refined grains, added sugars or hydrogenated oils, you can assume the product is not healthy. You also want to look for low amounts of added sugars, saturated fats and sodium.
Nutrients that you want more of include iron, vitamin D, dietary fiber and potassium. Unfortunately, many packaged goods do not contain the recommended amounts.
Consider the Percent Daily Value
The %DV column tells you what percentage of the recommended daily value of each ingredient a serving contains. This column basically tells you if a product is high or low in a nutrient, and how much a single serving will contribute to your daily diet for each ingredient. Ideally, the % of less healthy ingredients, such as sodium or trans-fat, will be at 5% or less, while wholesome ingredients will have a DV of 20% or more.
This is just a brief overview of food labels, but it should help you shop smarter in the long run. Happy shopping!