Updated: May 9, 2020
Do you know what's in your food? When it comes to the pantry and frozen food staples, it's important to check the nutrition labels. You might already do that, but without learning what you should be looking for, there may be a slew of sneaky additives you could be missing out on.
The next time you stock up at the supermarket, take a closer look at those labels to see if what you're putting into your cart is really healthy, or something you may want to leave on the shelf. Here's how!
Know that the first few ingredients are crucial
For every packaged product, the ingredients are listed from highest to lowest quantity. Those first three ingredients will tell you much of what you need to know. So if you see anything refined, composed of sugar, or any hydrogenated oils at the beginning of that list, you may want to skip it. And in general, be cautious about packages that have a lengthy ingredient list filled with words you cannot pronounce or understand.
Pay attention to serving size
When checking out the calories, fat, nutrients, and other contents, most packages will note them for a single serving. Serving sizes on packages are usually much smaller than what you'd typically eat as a portion. Be mindful of this serving size trap.
Watch out for those buzz words
Something that is labeled as "light," "low-fat," or "low-cal" might sound healthier, but it usually means it's watered down or more sugar has been added in to compensate for the taste. On another note, "multigrain" usually consists of a blend of refined grains, instead of the whole-grain impression it touts. "Fruit-flavored" and "All Natural" are other popular ones you'll see. Study up on these definitions so you know what they truly mean, instead of taking them at face value.
Look for the good
Fiber is essential for a healthy body, especially in your digestive system, where your good bacteria need to flourish. You'll get it in fresh fruits and veggies, but in packaged food, find real whole grains to round out your meals. Also, look at the vitamin content in the foods you choose. Things with vitamins A, C, and D, iron, calcium, and potassium are good choices.
Minimize contact with bad fats
The more saturated fat you eat, the higher your risk for illnesses you are trying to avoid. Try to look for items with no transfat and no or minimal amount of saturated fats. If you do choose these items, eat them in moderation.
Remember that sugar is sneaky
And finally, a special note about sugar: it goes by many aliases. There are many different kinds of sugars lurking in our foods. You'll find it in sauces and salad dressings as well as other foods you'd never expect it to be in. Always be mindful of the sugar content on your labels. Again, if you see it listed toward the beginning of the list, it's going to be high in content and something you may want to enjoy in moderation.
Hope these simple hacks empower you to be more equipped to read your nutritional labels when making decisions at the supermarket.
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Laura RDH, CHC
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