Reading food labels is a huge part of dieting. They provide all the information you need to know about a food, from the serving size to the ingredients. The problem is that many people ignore food labels and simply guess the contents of their food and make up their own serving sizes. This is a factor that contributes to obesity: ignorance with food labels. If you are looking to have a healthier diet, looking at food labels is the first step to take.
Serving Sizes Explained
The most confusing, yet most important part of a food label is the serving size. Serving sizes are usually smaller than one may think. For example, a serving size of cereal is typically ¾ of a cup to 1 cup, but cereal bowls these days can fit about three times that amount. People have the instinct to fill up the whole bowl and not know that they are eating at least double the amount than they should be.
The easiest way to control serving sizes is by using measuring cups (to state the obvious). All of the nutrients on the label are measured based on the serving size, which is why it is the first part you should look at when analyzing your food. Also, pay attention to the amount of servings in a food package so you don’t end up eating more servings that what you want to.
Decoding Calories on Food Labels
Calories are the next part of the food label to be concerned about, but they are pretty basic to explain. When a label says “200 calories, 100 calories from fat” this means that half of the calories you are eating come from fat, if you eat one serving. If you are trying to watch your fat, you should avoid foods that have a lot of calories from fat. When considering calories, know that 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories is high. Remember that eating more calories than what you need daily will cause weight gain.
Understanding Nutrient Content
When looking at nutrient content, it is important to know which ones to limit, and which ones to emphasize. Saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, cholesterol and sugar should all be taken into consideration. Overconsumption of any of these nutrients could lead to health problems. However, there are also nutrients you should emphasize, such as calcium, iron, fiber, vitamin C and vitamin A. These are all nutrients that are generally under consumed by Americans and can prevent certain health problems. Some people need more than others, just make sure to check out food labels in order to balance out your daily intake of nutrients.
Percent Daily Values
On every food label, there is a now on the lower part that says “percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.” The percentages that come after each nutrient listed are based on this statement. They are there to help individuals out in general, whether they need 2,000 calories a day or not. You may need more or less than 2,000 calories based on your weight, physical activity level, age, gender and general wellness.
Pay Attention to List of Ingredients
The list of ingredients is one part of the food label that many individuals don’t even glance at. But it’s important to look at if you are trying to limit or emphasize anything in your diet. Sometimes the ingredient list can provide you with a lot more information than any other part. For example, just because a food label says “0 g trans fat” doesn’t meant the food has none.
The food industry isn’t required to write the amount of trans fat if there is less than .5 g in the food, even though even a tiny amount can be harmful. A food has trans fat if there is “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” listed in the ingredients. Ingredient lists are also helpful when one is trying to limit their added sugar consumption. The label doesn’t directly indicate whether the sugar in the food is added or not. Some names for added sugar in ingredient lists are: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, sucrose, syrup, invert sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar and molasses. Many foods do contain natural sugar, but today it is hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t because sugar is added to almost everything that is processed.
Reading food labels isn’t hard, but it can definitely be confusing to people who aren’t experts in the nutrition area. People who are concerned about their health definitely need to learn about them, for it will provide their body with several benefits.
Thanks to my guest blogger, Brianna.
Brianna Elliott is a regular contributor at PSCLife.com – a leading retailer of TymeZyme – a plant enzyme supplement designed to support your digestion system by improving the absorption of nutrients.