15 Apr Eat Smart: Tips for Reading Food Labels
Are you struggling to keep up with your three-month old New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? Are you trying to make lifestyle changes, but finding it difficult to know where to start? One of the top ways to start making changes is to begin keeping track of what you eat. However, in today’s world of packaged food and pre-made meals, it can be tough to know just exactly what we’re eating when we pull that package out of the vending machine at work. Here are a few tips from health bloggers on reading (and understanding!) the nutrition facts labels on the back of the packages in our pantries:
Look at the serving size. Before you get too excited about the low sugar or calories from fat on your favorite snack, make sure you check the serving size. Often the portions are smaller than we might expect.
Understand what the calorie count actually means. Calories are a measurement of energy—or the amount of various foods needed to sustain the amount of energy a person needs each day. Most adult women need 1,800-2,200 calories a day, and adult males need 2,200-2,500 calories. So when you read the label, make sure your small snack isn’t going to take up too many of your recommended allotted calories for the day.
Avoid trans fats and salt. Trans fats generally occur in foods that are made with hydrogenated oils—such as shortening—that are used in packaged foods so that they have a longer shelf life. Trans fats are difficult to break down and usually raise cholesterol. Be aware that a package saying “0g Trans fats” simply means that there’s less than .5g of trans fats per serving—and those trace amounts may add up. Additionally, sodium is often high in packaged foods. The recommended daily amount of sodium is just 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon). Too much sodium leads to increased water retention, which leads to increased blood volume and hypertension. Watch the fats and the salts to keep your snacks healthy.
Choose complex carbs. Carbohydrates get a bad rap in the media, but really they can be very healthy, as the body breaks them down to create energy. However, make sure you choose complex carbs—derived from fruits and vegetables—because they also contain fiber, which helps them to be broken down more slowly, thereby avoiding blood sugar spikes.
Avoid sugar to make your snacks more healthy. There’s no recommended daily intake for sugar, and sugar is always listed in grams on the food labels, making it difficult to know how much is too much. As a rule of thumb, though, grams of sugar can be converted to teaspoons by dividing by 4 (i.e. 20 grams of sugar is approximately 5 teaspoons). The average candy bar contains about 24 grams of sugar—which is more than ¼ cup!