I posted a survey this past week about nutrition labels. Thanks to everyone that provided input. It was interesting to learn what people are focusing on as they choose their groceries. There was not one particular category that more people chose than others. Calories, fat, protein, sugar content, ingredients and other items were all important to different people in different orders. I was impressed to see that so many people are really paying attention to the choices that they are making as they fuel their bodies.
If you are one of those people that feel that the labels are overwhelming or you aren’t even sure what you are looking for, it is easier than you think. Food labeling is highly regulated and this makes it pretty standardized. This FDA website breaks the label down into sections and explains the importance of each grouping of information.
Even if you are a good label reader this FDA website might have some helpful information for you. Now that you understand each section let’s move on to the most cryptic part of food labels – the ingredients list.
Ingredients are listed on a product based on how much of each item is in the product going from most to least. As a general rule look for foods with ingredient lists that you can recognize. Many of the hard to pronounce words are products derived from corn or various types of sweeteners. When you are seeing the ingredients listed this way it is telling you two things, there was a chemical process for the product to take that form and it is not likely that it is providing nutritional content to your food. This is where sticking to shopping the perimeter of your grocery store will save you a lot of time – the foods found in these areas tend to have fewer ingredients.
What about those catch words on the front of the package? Protein is popular right now and it’s been popping up on all types of foods. Here is an example I saw recently:
Looks like a great idea, so I looked at the back of the package to see how much protein was in these veggies and how they did it.
I was taking pictures in the grocery store so the photo quality is not great but hopefully you can read enough to understand the label. Yes, there are 14 grams of protein. That is pretty impressive for vegetables. Remember that article about protein a few weeks ago that offered some vegetarian choices, yep, black beans and lentils. The protein claim on the front of the package holds true. Let’s check what else these veggies offer. A serving size is 1 and 2/3 cup frozen or 1 cup cooked. That single serving of “vegetables” contains 320 calories, making this your main dish. With only 4.5 grams of fat this is considered a low fat choice. The next thing that jumps out at me is the sodium content: 550 mg or 23% of your daily value. 53 grams of carbs is somewhat to be expected – it is a bag of vegetables and vegetables are high in carbs. The dietary fiber of 17 grams is good to see because it can be challenging to get enough fiber in our diet. The final thing that I noticed was the incredibly large number of ingredients on this bag of veggies and only a few are actually vegetables. After reading this label what would you decide to do? For me ingredients are very important so I left them in the grocery store freezer. I can make beans and season them with far less ingredients. Each of us has to choose what is most important to us nutritionally and then shop according to that value system.
Start checking labels. Check out some of those “healthy foods” in your cupboards or refrigerator. How did they stack up compared to what you though they would? It’s easy to get so focused on just one part of the label that we miss some other very important information. Once you get the hang of looking at all the vital information – label reading will be a quick and easy habit.