Don't Be Fooled by Food Labels
Jan 15, 2018
We may think we know what all those numbers and percentages on the back of our favorite snack mean, but do you really know what you’re putting into your body? Registered dietitian, Heather Rudnik, shares some helpful tips to keep in mind while you are reading a food label.
- Serving Size
Often times, a package of food contains more than one serving. The nutrition facts listed on a label are for individual servings, therefore if you eat more than one serving you are actually consuming sometimes double the amount listed on the label — including fat, sodium, calories, and more.
“For example, a label on a can of soup may say it contains 860 mg of sodium,” said Heather. “However, soup often has two or more servings per can, so the actual total is closer to 1870 mg if you eat the whole thing.”
Be sure to check your serving sizes before indulging in a full can, box, or bag of your favorite snack.
- Saturated Fat vs. Trans Fat
Trans fats are primarily found in processed foods such as cakes, pies, cookies, fried foods, and anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils. Whereas saturated fats are found naturally in animal products such as meat and dairy, as well as in tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Having fat in your diet is essential for your health, however you want to avoid foods with large amounts of either of these.
“Instead of using margarine in cooking, try extra virgin olive oil or canola oil,” said Heather. “To lower saturated fat intake, replace red meat, such as beef or pork, with fish high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna.”
Consuming large amounts of sodium can drastically affect a person’s diet and can be especially problematic for those with high blood pressure. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we consume less than 2300 mg of sodium a day.
“For those with high blood pressure 1500 mg of sodium or less a day is advised,” said Heather.
- Added Sugar vs. Total Sugar
Added sugar is simply the amount of sugar that has been added to foods and beverages during production. Total sugar consists of added sugar plus any sugars that naturally occur in foods such as fruits and in dairy. Luckily, by 2020 most nutrition facts labels will be required to list separately added sugars on their nutrition facts labels. Until the added sugar category is added to labels, read the ingredients list to see if there is added sugar.
“When trying to determine if the foods you eat contain added sugars not listed in the nutrition facts, look for words such as cane juice or crystals, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose, syrup, honey, and fruit juice concentrate in the ingredients,” said Heather.
Daily Value Percentage
“It’s important to keep in mind that these percentages were developed with the average American in mind,” said Heather. “Everyone does not consume a 2,000 calorie diet and nutrient requirements vary based on age, gender, and other personal factors such as the presence of a disease condition.”
The Daily Value percentage is the approximate level of specific nutrients that someone eating 2,000 calories a day would need, and is shown on the right hand side of a nutrition label. The percentage represents the amount of one nutrient present in one serving of a food or beverage compared to the daily need.
Healthy eating starts at the grocery store, and paying attention to your food’s nutritional facts can have a positive impact on your health. To continue to learn more about reading and understanding food labels, click here.