As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, reading food labels has always been second-nature to me. I remember a friend of mine mentioning to me that she never once read a food label; I was shocked! The nutrition facts of food are a huge resource for the public, as it helps you understand and learn more about what you are eating. I read food labels because I have the right and desire to know if the foods I eat are ideal for my body and needs.
You have the power and control over what foods go into your body! I can't stress enough how important it is to even quickly take a look at the food labels on the products you buy. Getting into this simple habit can upgrade your health and boost your nutritional knowledge. I'm going to go through a few quick tips on navigating a nutrition label, but I want to start with a recent update...
The current food label is over 20 years old! That's why the FDA has introduced a new nutrition facts label that you will be seeing on food products. The goal of this label is to hopefully make things easier for you, the consumer, to navigate and make healthy choices.
Now, don't worry- it's not too different. This infographic from the FDA highlights a few of the main changes, including the inclusion of Added Sugars and actual amounts of each vitamin listed at the bottom of the label. A few more aesthetic changes make this label more user-friendly.
*Photo taken from FDA.gov
When I look at a food label, I first look at the ingredients list before the nutrition facts. This is not shown in the picture above, but it is always present on any package of food you eat. If I can pronounce and recognize the ingredients, then I know what is going into my body. A good rule of thumb to follow is the fewer ingredients, the better; less is always more!
Let's say you are buying peanut butter... how long should that ingredient list be? Only one ingredient should be present- peanuts! If you find a peanut butter label with a long list of ingredients, it may be highly processed and not the healthiest choice.
Now, the nutrition facts label has extremely important information about the different nutrients and vitamins that the food contains. I like to start from the top and work my way down.
The serving size tells you how many servings are in one package. Be careful with this! Often times, two servings may be in one package... if you eat the entire package, then you have to double the nutrition facts, yikes!
Next, I'll go down the list and assess all of the nutrients. I like to focus on sodium, fiber, and protein. I try to minimize the sodium, amp up the fiber and protein, and make sure the rest of the label is balanced. I always avoid trans fat, and try to minimize the sugar content of the foods I eat. The new label includes Added Sugars, which include sugar added in the processing of food. Depending on your dietary needs, you may need more or less of one nutrient than another.
I hope that this gave you some more information about navigating and utilizing a food label! Getting to know more about your food can provide greater insight and bring you a few steps closer to your health goals!
Changes to the nutrition facts food label. Food and Drug Administration Web site. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm Last Updated August 3, 2016. Accessed August 11, 2016.