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How to eat healthy: Reading Labels

Since I'm studying to be a holistic nutritionist,  I advocate whole foods, which typically don't come in containers with labels. However, if you are going to purchase packaged foods and/or refined food, here are a few tips:

  • Check the serving size– There’s more servings in a container than you think. For example- a 20 ounce soda is actually 2 1/2 servings, a 3 ounce bag of chips is actually 3 servings.
  • Keep the ingredient list short-Ideally, you don’t want more than 5 or 10 ingredients.
  • If the first ingredient is sugar…don’t buy it – As you’ll see later in this article, ingredients are listed by weight, with the most first. Which means if sugar is first, or even one of the top 3, there’s a LOT of sugar in the product.
  • If you can’t read it, don’t eat it! – Avoid chemicals, additives and preservatives. The ingredient list should be simple, basic food.  If you see a bunch of scientific, chemical names, don’t buy it.
  • If an ingredient ends in -ose, it’s sugar-avoid these products
  • Sugar-free isn’t that great-If something is sugar free, it simply means there are artificial sweeteners in the product. Stay away from these products.
  • Avoid “partially-hydrogenated” or “Hydrogenated” oils– This means there are trans-fats (aka; trans fatty acids) in the product. (even if it says “NO TRANS FAT” on the label!)
  • Avoid any product that lists natural flavors or artificial flavors– These added “flavors” can contain anywhere from 50 to 100 extra ingredients. (3)
  • Avoid vegetable oils-such as soybean, corn, safflower, etc. These oils are highly inflammatory.

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This can of Hunts is an example of what NOT to buy. It has 11 ingredients, 3 of which are sugar:  High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and sugar. It also contains soybean oil and “natural flavors”. (which adds another 50 “unknown” ingredients)

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This jar of Rao’s Homemade Pasta Sauce is a good example of a safe product.  There are only 8 ingredients. The ingredients are simple, you can read them all, and you know all of the ingredients.

In May, 2016, the FDA announced a new nutrition facts label. Manufacturers will need to use the new label by July 26, 2018. Below, the old label is on the left the new label on the right. (1)

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Old label vs New label

What’s different about the new label? (1)

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Changes in serving sizes (1)

ucm501517

How do you read the label?

Servings:

The first aspect of a nutrition label is the serving size. All labels use standard servings measurements, and familiar units, such as cups, pieces or grams. This makes it easier to read and allows for food comparison. Servings are important, because they influence the rest of the label, such as calories and fat or sugar consumption. This section indicates the serving size and the servings per container. In the example shown in image 1, there are 2 servings in this container, with a serving size of 1 1/2 cups or 208 grams.

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IMAGE 1 – SERVING SIZE

Calories:

The calorie section specifies overall calories per serving. In image 2, there are 240 overall calories in one serving.

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IMAGE 2 – CALORIES

 Nutrients:

Image 3 shows an example of the section containing nutrients to eat on a limited basis as well as nutrients necessary daily. Total fat, in this example, is 4 grams. Of  these grams, the example indicates that 1.5 of the 4 are from saturated fat and 0 are from trans fat or trans fatty acid. The other numbers in image 3, indicate cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein. Cholesterol is 5 milligrams and sodium content is 430 milligrams. Numbers under carbohydrates include total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, total sugar and added sugar. In image 3, total carbohydrates are 46 grams; fiber is 7 grams; total sugar is 4 grams with 2 grams from added sugar. The total amount of protein in this product is 11 grams.

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IMAGE 3 – NUTRIENTS

Vitamins and Minerals:

Image 4 indicates vitamin and mineral content, including vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. In the example shown in image 4, there are 2 micrograms of vitamin D, 260 milligrams of calcium, 6 milligrams of iron and 240 milligrams of potassium.

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IMAGE 4 – VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Daily Value:

Image 5 show the portion of the nutrition label which the describes the % of daily value. The percent of daily value indicates how much each nutrient contributes to the overall daily diet, based on a daily intake of 2000 calories. The daily value column should be used to determine if a nutrient is low or high. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 5% or less is low and 20% or more is high.

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IMAGE 5- % OF DAILY VALUE DESCRIPTION

Ingredients:

Image 6 shows the ingredient list, using the common or usual name in descending order by weight. The ingredient with the greatest weight in the product will be listed first, and the ingredient with the least weight listed last. Any potential allergens are listed at the bottom under the title “contains”.

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IMAGE 6-INGREDIENTS

SOURCE: 

  1. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm#highlights
  2. http://www.eatthis.com/understanding-nutrition-labels
  3. http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/14/health/feat-natural-flavors-explained/
About Tamara Hoerner (499 Articles)
I am a student at Hawthorn University working toward a MS degree in Holistic Nutrition. For me, the name Purple Almond symbolizes “Good, nutritious, whole food bringing light and life to the body, awakening the inherent healing mechanisms within.”

6 Comments on How to eat healthy: Reading Labels

  1. Great post with loads of info! Thanks for creating such a great awareness!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this! Great minds think alike, lol! I stress this all the time with my clients! Ingredients matter! Simple and clean is even better! The longer the ingredient list, the more likely it is that there are ingredients present that you don’t want to ingest! It’s a sad fact here in the U.S. that big Agri-business and the packaged food industry has been allowed to trick and hide toxic ingredients in our food sources. It becomes even more important that those of us in the health and fitness industry, both advocate and educate all those who come into our sphere of influence. Keep up the good work!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! 😊 it seems like such an obvious thing to do…read labels. But I think back to before I knew anything about the food industry. Unfortunately consumers trust the industry and think they are required to disclose all ingredients…as you know this is not the case. We absolutely need to band together and educate as well as fight. If ppl quit buying it, they’ll be forced to change.

      Liked by 1 person

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