Food labels keep changing. It can be hard to process what you’re looking at, especially when you’re in a rush in the middle of the store. Here are a few tips to help you better understand what you’re looking at.
The word “natural” actually doesn’t mean anything. There are no rules regarding the use of that word. Be careful when you see it; check out the ingredients list on the back. If you wanta surefire natural product, make sure it has a USDA Organic seal on it. This will tell you that the product is composed of at least 95% organic ingredients. However, the certification process is long and expensive, so if you’re at a farmers market or something, food might qualify but not be certified. Askthe farmer about how they raise their livestock or grow their crops and they’ll be able to answer your questions.
While you’re looking at the front of the label, also be wary of the words “light” or “lite.” Light doesn’t necessarily ensure that it containsa reasonable amount of calories. It usually only means that it has less calories than the original version. This is often accomplished with artificial flavors, which may actually be worse for you than the calories in the regular version (depending on the food item). The calorie count and the fat content will be a much better barometer of whether it is a “light” item than some words on the label.
Next you need to check out the serving size. The best way to do this is to measure food out a few times until you get an idea of what the label is actually talking about. Also, especially with meat, the serving size may be different depending on whether it is cooked or raw—it tends to get smaller when cooked. Learn which one the label discusses.
Once you know how much a serving size is, you’ll understand how many calories you’ll be consuming if you eat one serving. Anything under 40 calories is considered a low calorie food. 400 calories or more is a high calorie food. The calories from fat is also important. The more fat calories there are, the higher the fat content and (typically) the less healthy the item is going to be.
If the food does have fat calories, they should be from monounsaturated fats—the kind you find in foods like avocados. Luckily, the label should also break down the type of fat. Saturated fats and trans fats should be avoided whenever possible. Steer clear of foods high in cholesterol.Same goes for foods high in sugar, which will also be broken out separately on the label.
However, there are some nutrients that you want to have higher numbers. The higher the dietary fiber, the more filling the product tends to be. It can also help reduce your risk of heart disease. Vitamin A, C, calcium, and iron are all nutrients that are often lacking in our diets. The more, the better, as far as these nutrients are concerned.
There is one more item standard on a nutrition facts label. There is a Percent Daily Values label. It lets you know—based on a typical diet—how much of certain things you should consume (fat, cholesterol, sodium, and carbohydrates). This gives you something to compare the nutrients listed on the particular food item you are looking at to what you should consume over the course of your day. It is a way to help you understand the label in terms of an all-day part of your diet.
Obviously, I am not a doctor, nor am I a nutritionist. You should always ask a professional if you have questions. These are just some general guidelines and tips I have found to be helpful and I hope that it took some of the mystery out of reading labels for you. Your dietary needs might be different than mine, and you should talk to a professional if you have questions.