Nutrition Basics – A Guide to Reading Food Labels
Greetings readers! I’m sure you all know by now that I’m a licensed nutritionist and devoted mom. Despite what some people believe about nutritionists, I don’t have an underground hydroponic farm where I grow my own organic lettuce and free-range turkey; I have to drive to a supermarket and buy my groceries like any other time-conscious parent. However, I always take the time to read the food labels, because you are what you eat. I invite you to let your eyes travel farther south, beyond the calorie and fat counts on your food labels, and learn the real deal about what you are putting in your mouth.
There are so many unhealthy ingredients that could appear in ingredient labels, so it is almost impossible to memorize all of them. The rule of thumb I tell my patients is that if there are too many scientific words on the ingredient label, you should probably avoid them. Food ingredients are always listed in order of dominance, and the first 5 ingredients usually make up the majority of the product. So if you see a product where one of the first five ingredients is sugar or a disguised sugar which are most ingredients ending in the suffix “ose,” like fructose, glucose, maltose, etc., those products are best to avoid. Also try to avoid products that contain high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.
Also try to avoid any chemicals in your ingredient labels. These are usually artificial colors and preservatives. Popular ones are MSG (monosodium glutamate), Yellow #5, Potassium Sorbate, nitrates, or anything else that sounds like something you can’t pronounce (as a general rule).
Do I spy chemicals?
So go take a look in your pantry and start reading the ingredient lists on your staple products. You may soon find you want to have new staples in your pantry! Let me know what you find!
How To Read A Nutrition Label
Let us look at a typical product label and identify the parts:
Sample Label for Macaroni and Cheese
Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods; they are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., the number of grams.
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Many Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients. The calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight (i.e., gain, lose, or maintain.) Remember: the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat (your portion amount).
The nutrients listed first are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts, or even too much. They are identified in yellow as Limit these Nutrients. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.
The % Daily Values (%DVs)- colored violet- are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients but only for a 2,000 calorie daily diet--not 2,500 calories. You, like most people, may not know how many calories you consume in a day. But you can still use the %DV as a frame of reference whether or not you consume more or less than 2,000 calories. The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. Note: a few nutrients, like trans fat, do not have a %DV.
My passion is to help you live your healthiest and most harmonious life, but in a way that’s realistic and practical for you as a unique individual on this planet. My philosophy is all about “balance,” never a diet since a diet is not sustainable for life, aka Kill The Diet.