Health & Wellness

5 Tips for Decoding Food Labels

from Harvard Medical School –

When it comes to eating healthfully, fresh fruits and vegetables are pretty much a slam dunk. Including packaged foods in a healthful diet is trickier. But it isn’t impossible if you learn how to use the Nutrition Facts on the package to judge the quality of the food inside. The vitamin or mineral content is less important as a basis for buying a product unless everything else adds up to a healthy choice.

Here are 5 ways to make food labels work for you:

1.  Size matters. Serving size is always the first item on the label. All other information is based on that serving size. The servings per container tell you know how many portions are in the whole box, package, or can. Beware: many packages contain more than one serving. Look at your orange juice for example. If the label says 125 calories per 8 ounce serving and your breakfast includes a 16 ounce glass of OJ, then you’ve taken in 250 calories from the juice alone. (About as many calories as you’d find in many chocolate bars.)

2.  Look for fat: the good, the bad, and the really bad. Check the saturated fat and trans fat content of the food. For a general healthful diet, keep saturated fat and cholesterol low and avoid trans fats altogether. Look for foods that have 0 grams (g) of trans fat and are lowest in saturated fat and cholesterol. Try to stay away from foods that have the words “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” in the ingredients list. Foods made with healthy unsaturated oils (olive, canola, safflower, etc.) are better bets.

3.  Is it worth its salt? Compare the sodium content to the calories per serving. To keep your salt intake in check, consider products in which the sodium content is less than or equal to the calories per serving. For a food with 250 calories per serving, ideally the sodium content should be no more than 250 mg. If you need to seriously restrict your salt intake consider the low-sodium, low-salt, or unsalted versions.

4.  Figure out the fiber. Aim for foods that have 5 g of fiber per serving, or at least one gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrate

5.  Stay away from added sugars : Sugar, no matter what it’s called, contains almost no nutrients other than pure carbohydrate. A heavy sugar intake fills you up with empty calories, keeps you from eating healthy foods, and stresses your body’s ability to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Steer clear of foods that have sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, corn sugar, fructose, or high-fructose corn syrup among the first three ingredients. Other names for sugar include agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, and glucose.

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7 years ago

I am 65 years old and love my sweat tea. I do not indulge in other sweats except as a treat once or twice a month. I have slowed down considerably because of an injury and as a consequence, I have gained a large amount of weight. I now substitute Splenda for sugar, but that is not a good idea. I have always loved honey that has gelled (become solid) as a candy. It seems that most of what we purchase is a product of some other country and china heads the list. I can remember when corn was sweat… Read more »

Clay Young
7 years ago

All of the sugars you say to avoid contain fructose, the “bad” sugar, with the exception of dextrose and glucose (different names for the same thing). Since they don’t contain fructose, they are much less bad for you. So-called “table sugar” is another to avoid as it is 50% fructose.

7 years ago

This is the kind of common sense checking that anyone who cares what they eat has been doing for years. Try giving us some REAL information: pesticide content, antibiotics, GMOs, the things we can’t figure out for ourselves.

7 years ago

In case some of you haven’t noticed, our food supply is being taken over by Monsanto. These are the people who are bringing us GMOs or genetically modified organisms. Your food is not the same as is was when you were young. These people make Roundup, a vegetation killer, for example, but their food is modified to be able to grown in it. Tests have shown it can cause cancer and other diseases. It’s very difficult to find food that is not modified. My family is trying to eat healthier, but it is difficult. This company has spent millions of… Read more »

Tom Haynes
7 years ago

I would like to see an article on ORIGIN of foods. For instance, it’s become pretty common knowledge to folks who are “paying attention” that most consumer goods are coming into this country from China, or other Asian countries. South America, etc. I no longer buy any fish that is “farmed” or not US waters wild caught. The challenge is to find the origin info on packaging. I’ve found most packaging to be devious, not just in origin, but in weight. Tuna cans are going from the standard 6 oz to 5.5 oz and smaller. Bagged chips, coffee and many… Read more »

A. Cobb
7 years ago

Thought it interesting that you did not mention local and/or organic products, And just vegetables and fruits are not necessarily a “slam dunk”. A healthy balanced diet of good fats, local produce (organic when possible), along with free range chicken, pork, beef and fish(wild caught if possible) in moderate amounts is what the American diet should be. And it should be as preservative,color dye and chemical additive free as possible. I agree that sugar limitation is important but so often when a package says sugar-free, it will contain Aspartame and other chemical sweeteners that I believe are more harmful than… Read more »

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