If you find yourself confused by food labels, you’re not alone. Understanding nutrition labels can be a daunting task and we know it can be tricky and confusing.
Here’s a list of tips for reading food labels and knowing how to make healthy choices for you and your family.
Watch Out for Serving Sizes
Think that cup of yogurt or bottle of juice is just one serving? Not so fast. Many foods are packaged with more than one serving, meaning if you eat or drink the whole thing, you’ll need to double (or sometimes) triple the amounts on the nutrition label. And don’t let a smaller package fool you. It’s fairly common for small packages to contain multiple servings.
Learn more about healthy eating.*
Read the Ingredients
Make sure to check the ingredients, as they list the actual contents of your food. This can sometimes be tricky if you’re new to the game because there are a lot of ingredients with weird names, if not multiple names for a single ingredient. Many of the “bad” ingredients are those that don’t occur in the foods naturally. Check out this quick list to give you an idea of which ingredients to avoid.
Bring a Cheat Sheet
If you’re new to the world of nutrition, or are trying to take in a lot of information, it can be stressful to try to memorize everything right away. Save yourself some confusion by bringing a cheat sheet of things you need to remember with you. This cheat sheet from PBS Kids is a good place to start.
Remember—Not All Calories are Bad and Some Fats are Good
When we think about healthy eating, we might assume that we need to stick to a low-calorie, low-fat diet. Remember, not all calories are created equal. Don’t count out a food just because it has a high number of calories or amount of fat—it might also be high in other things that are good for you, like dietary fiber, vitamins or minerals. Foods like avocados, nuts and fish are healthy for you in moderation. Try to avoid foods and drinks with “empty calories,” like in soda and packaged baked goods. These foods offer little nutritional value in exchange for their calories and fat.
Understand the Difference Between “Reduced” and “Low”
You’ve seen them before, those bright, attention grabbing labels on food products that scream “low fat” or “reduced calories.” But what does that really mean? This part can get tricky so we’ve included a quick break-down:
- Low fat: An item that contains 3 grams of fat or less per serving can claim to be low in fat. (Make sure you keep up with those serving sizes.)
- Reduced fat: If a food product contains 50% or less of the fat found in the original product, companies can label them as reduced in fat.
- Fat free: This one is tricky and companies are able to round down if the product has less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving with no added fat or oil.
- Reduced calorie: This can mean that there are at least 25% fewer calories per serving than the original product.
- Low calorie: This means that there can only be a maximum of 40 calories per serving.
Armed with the right information, you’ll be able to make the most out of your next grocery trip. Don’t forget to bring your cheat sheet, and remember to pay close attention to those nutrition labels and ingredients. Soon enough, you’ll be shopping like a nutrition pro.