Eating healthy used to be about making meals from scratch. And while this is an ideal we should all strive for, the reality is that most of us head to the grocery store and buy a lot of prepared foods.
Certainly, the days of canning and preserving foods seem long gone for all but a few industrious people. The same goes for making breads and cereals. If the age of buying prepared foods is here to stay, there’s one particular skill you’ll need to develop to protect yourself from the potential nutritional pitfalls that go along with buying food that some company has mass-produced: learning to decipher nutrition labels.
In a recent study, researchers rated nutrition labels based on the ability of consumers to understand them. What they found was that “The Percent Daily Value” symbol was rated highest when it came to helpfulness, but was also the least understood. With that in mind, let’s brush up on your label-reading skills.
In general, the average nutritional label has the following information:
• Serving size
• Calories per serving
• Calories from fat
• Percentage daily values for total fat, trans fat and saturated fat
• Percentage daily values for sodium, cholesterol, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron
This is essential information that you should take note of when reading the labels of all your favorite foods. At first, it will seem a little tedious, but pretty soon you’ll get the hang of it. What you’re looking for, essentially, are those red flags—a sodium content that’s 30% of your daily intake, or a trans fat percentage that is higher than five percent. Try to avoid products that list calories per serving at or above 400.
Reading nutrition labels isn’t all about cutting back on certain foods. When it comes to the section on vitamins and minerals, look for foods that will increase your daily intake of these nutrients. Calcium is important for your bones; vitamin A and C play important roles as antioxidants; and iron is needed to stave off symptoms associated with anemia. And then there’s fiber: the more you get, the less trouble you’ll have with your entire digestive system.
Finally, the last bit of health advice that I give my patients is to compare. Find the foods that score the best overall: not too much saturated fat, not too high in calories or sodium, good percentages for the key vitamins and minerals, and a decent fiber score if possible.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Emrich, T.E., et al., “Effectiveness of front-of-pack nutrition symbols: a pilot study with consumers,” Can J Diet Pract Res. Winter 2012; 73(4):200-3.