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.
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)
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)
What’s different about the new label? (1)
Changes in serving sizes (1)
How do you read the label?
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.
The calorie section specifies overall calories per serving. In image 2, there are 240 overall calories in one serving.
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.
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.
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.
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”.