The secret to reading a food label is knowing what to look for. If you understand the label lingo, it’s not so difficult to make the healthiest purchases. The most reliable information on the packet can be found on the nutritional facts panel and the ingredient list.
Step 1: Start with the Serving Size
Look here for both the serving size (the amount people typically eat at one time) and the number of servings in the package. Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the packet. The serving sizes mentioned on the packet are frequently much smaller than what people consume in one sitting. In doing so, manufacturers try to deceive consumers into thinking that the food has fewer calories and less sugar.
Step 2: Check Out the Total Calories
Find out how many calories are in a single serving. Pay attention to the calories per serving and how many calories you’re really consuming with the amount you are having. If you’re interested in knowing the nutritional value of what you’re eating, you need to multiply the serving given on the pack by the number of servings you consumed.
Step 3: Check the Ingredient list Product ingredients are listed by quantity — from highest to lowest amount. This means that the first ingredient is what the manufacturer used the most. A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you’re eating.
Step 4: Limit certain nutrients: Check the key nutrients that you are looking for. Limit the amount of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium you eat and avoid trans fat. Total sugars can include both natural and added sugars.
Step 5: Get enough of the beneficial nutrients: Make sure you get enough of the much-needed nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamins like A, D, E, K, dietary fiber, etc.
Step 6: Understand the percent daily values (% DV): This shows the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving. Remember that the information shown on the label is based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. You may need less or more than 2,000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
Watch out for the most misleading claims:
- No added sugar
- Low calorie
- Low fat
- Made with whole grains
- Fortified and enriched
- Zero trans fats
- Fruit flavored
Despite these cautionary words, many truly healthy foods are organic, whole grain, or natural. Still, just because a label makes certain claims, doesn’t guarantee that it’s healthy.
Handy tips on how to read the food labels:
- Check the serving size.
- Check the amounts of servings per packet.
- Calculate the actual calories you are consuming.
- Check the ingredient list from highest to lowest.
- Never believe the misleading claims.
- Check the sodium content.
- Check the type of fat.
- Use the % daily value column (%DV): 5% DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high.
- Keep these low – Sugar, Saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium
- Get enough of these – Calcium, iron, vitamin A, C, D, potassium, fiber.