Navigating Food Labels - 3 Things to Look For
Hi there friends,In following up with last week's blog post, “Before Buying Package Food – Ask Yourself these Three Questions”, I wanted to share some insight about navigating the food labels of packaged foods.
Now you are probably thinking to yourself, “Danielle, food labels, really? Psssshhhhff, that is so 2010. I’ve been reading food labels for the longest time now. I get it, it’s fine.” Now hear me out.
Before I became a nutritionist I read food labels too. To be honest, I don’t know why I was reading them or how the information was useful to me. I would glance over the nutrient fact panel and use it to compare two similar packaged foods. “Oh this one has less sodium, less calories and more calcium, I’ll get this one.” Great. Cool. Whatever. That doesn’t tell me ANYTHING useful about the food.
Now, with nutrition education under my belt, I approach the problem of label reading completely differently. The criteria I'm sharing with you today are going to be useful, practical, something that you can implement right away and get real benefit from.
No. 1: Focus on the Ingredient List, not the Nutrient Facts Pannel ?
I barely use the nutrient facts table. I have always been more concerned about the quality of food then the quantity. Portion size, calories, and grams of fat matters but to lesser extent then the quality of food consumed. Yes, tracking macros has its place, but if your goal is general, overall health, I wouldn’t stress too hard about it.
My recommendation to you is to avoid the white Nutrient Facts box and look just below it at the ingredient list.
Are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce? Is there artificial sweeteners, food coloring, chemical preservatives? How about some of those junk oils we talked about last week? Ideally you want your ingredient list to be as small as possible and as real food based as possible too.
No. 2: Watch Out for Sugar?
As a 21-Day Sugar Detox Coach and as someone whose health is strongly impacted by sugar, I am passionate about making you more aware of the amount of sugar you consume.
Sugar is the one thing I will look for on the nutrient fact table. I'm looking to see how much sugar is in a serving and how big that serving is. For example, a popular ketchup brand has 4 grams of sugar per serving and each serving is only 15 grams. That’s one third sugar - a full teaspoon! No thank you. And let’s be honest - who only uses one tablespoon of ketchup?
Recommendations from the American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of sugar (9 teaspoons) daily and women consume no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar daily. These numbers are for added sugar, so the natural sugar contained in fruits, veggies, and other whole foods don’t count towards these totals. Keep these numbers in mind when you are purchasing and eating packaged foods.
Also a wise idea to look for sugar in the ingredient lists. Sugar has a variety of names it likes to hide under therefore you need to be careful. For example sugar can hide as corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, cane sugar, coconut sugar, honey, agave, rice syrup, etc. It’s worth noting that ingredients lists are ordered from most abundant to least abundant. Food manufacturers will use multiple types of sugar so that sugar does not appear as the first ingredient in a package to food. Sneaky.
No. 3: Quality First
Finally, as much as possible look for food packages with the certified organic sticker or the non-GMO Project Verified Sticker. You can trust these certifications as they have very high standards that food products have to meet in order to get the distinction.
To clarify, just because a food product has a USDA or Canadian Certified Organic sticker or non-GMO Project Verified sticker does not mean that the food is healthy. Use your good sense and criteria I’ve outlined in last week's blog post to help you decide whether or not you really need to be purchasing that from product.
I hope these criteria help you to navigate food labels and make healthier choices for yourself and your family. What do you look out for on food labels? Leave your thoughts over on my Instagram Page.
Have a beautiful week, Lovelies. Talk again soon!