Are you struggling to understand all those difficult terms on nutrition labels? Fear not because you are not alone. Saturated fat, trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, caboxymethylcellulose, sodium hexametaphosphate, maltodextrin… it’s all just too much to take in. We want to help you understand the foods you are eating so you can know if you are eating healthy or not.
People look at nutrition labels for different reasons. Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to know what you are putting into your body. Before you jump to the ingredients, take the time to read the nutrition label. Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about nutrition labels.
Serving Size: Start off by looking at the serving size, which is the exact measurement that all the calories, fats, sugars, or sodium pertain to. If the serving size is one cup, for instance, all the amounts apply to that measurement. The 150 calories in that serving size of one cup double if you eat 2 servings. Chances are that one package, bag, or bottle of something is not one serving size.
Calories: The next, and often most prominent, thing people see are the calories. The amount of calories translates to the amount of energy you will get from a serving size of that food. A lot of Americans consume too many calories as a result of a portion distortion. The calorie section of each nutrition label can help people count calories if they are trying to lose weight. In the average American diet, the standard daily calorie intake is 1,800-2,200 calories for adult women and 2,000-2,500 calories for adult men. These are average calculations that vary based on physical activity and health conditions. Remember: If you are trying to lose weight, it’s best to eat between 1,200-1,500 calories per day.
Sodium: The average American eats too much salt. Your maximum daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300mg (about 1 teaspoon). If you are over 40 years old or have hypertension, it’s advised to consume 1,500mg of sodium a day or less. It’s best to avoid as much salt as you can, as overconsumption of salt can lead to heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, or atherosclerosis. If you add salt to your food, there are natural salts that are better for you than regular table salt.
Fats: There are good fats and bad fats. Fats that are unsaturated are acceptable to consume, in proper amounts of course. You want to put something back on the shelf if it contains saturated or trans fats. These two can lead to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and decreased HDL (good) cholesterol levels. When searching for fats on a nutrition label, be sure to check the ingredient list too. Because of a labeling loophole, companies can put 0.5g of trans fat per serving, even if the product says it is fat-free. How to Check: Check the ingredients to see if there are any hydrogenated oils. If there are some, the product has some trans fat in it.
Sugars: Sugars have many names, so double check the ingredient list for names like galactose, dextrose, fructose, or glucose. There are also added sugars or sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup, which should be avoided. Natural sweeteners like stevia or organic agave are best. Sugars can be in unlikely foods to add flavor. They can be in unhealthy cereals or salad dressings. So beware of hidden sugars.
Carbohydrates: Sugars, fiber, and refined carbs (avoid these), fall under the carbohydrate umbrella. Carbs are a great source of energy if you choose the right ones to eat. Complex carbs, often found in whole grains or fruits and vegetables, are way better for you than refined carbs. If you incorporate fibrous fruits and vegetables into your diet, you can help improve digestion, boost energy levels, and you’ll eat less because you will feel fuller.
Vitamins & Minerals: Most Americans don’t get enough of vitamins A and C. Look out for these and make sure you are getting your daily dose. You can also eat fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure, if not exceed, your daily requirement of most vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper health. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron are great minerals, some of which are predominantly found in avocados, dark leafy greens, raw nuts and seeds, or bananas, among many more foods. You can also take herbal supplements to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
Ingredients: The ingredients are on the label for a reason, and they are small for a reason too! A lot of people overlook the ingredients, some of which can be detrimental to your health. The most prominent ingredients in the food are listed first. If the ingredient is too hard to pronounce, we recommend staying away from it. Look for short ingredient lists that have easy-to-understand ingredients.
This is a lot to take in, but hopefully it has helped you understand nutrition labels a little better. If you have any questions about what is best to consume/avoid for your health, feel free to email us or give us a call. We are here to help.