Read Before You Buy: What’s Really in Your Food?
You take time to make a grocery list, research recipes, clip coupons and go shopping, but do you take the time to read, understand and compare nutritional labels on your food? Reading labels will only add a few extra minutes to your grocery trip, and can make all the difference in your diet and help you make healthier decisions before you hit the checkout line. Interpreting labels it can be an overwhelming experience. Here are nine tips to help you on your next supermarket sweep.
- Assess the Serving Size. Most packages contain more than one serving so be sure to multiply all of the amounts listed to see what the entire product contains.
- Count those Calories: For women, the daily recommended caloric intake is 1,800-2,000 and for men it is between 2,200 – 2,500, so keep in mind if you eat one item with over 700 calories, you’re about a third of the way through your daily caloric intake. These are estimates, and one’s level of physical activity plays a part too. Be sure to check the number of calories that come from fat too. The general guide is that 40 calories is low, 100 is moderate and 400 or more calories from fat is high. Where the calories are coming from is important.
- Not all fats are created equal. Stay away from products that have trans fats. Trans fats are partially or fully hydrogenated oils and are often in commercially baked goods as they help keep products fresh longer. Be forewarned, if there is less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving they can still list the product as not containing trans fat. Just because the packaging says fat-free, it often has excess sugars, refined (bad) carbs and extra calories. The good fats are monounsaturated fats (i.e. olive oil, avocados, olives, nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (i.e. soybean oil, flaxseed, some fish, soy milk). Bad fats are saturated fats (i.e. butter, cheese, ice cream) and trans fat (i.e. commercially baked pastries, packaged snacks, fried food, candy bars.)
- Look at salt content. The daily maximum is about 2,300 mg per day (one teaspoon) as excess sodium is correlated with hypertension, which leads to high blood pressure.
- Carb Check. Carbs are an essential source of energy (despite them getting a bad rep in the media) but there are different kinds and some are better than others. Stick to complex carbs, which are found natural in fruits and veggies. So pick a fresh orange over a glass of orange juice and skip those refined sugars.
- Fiber up Baby. The American Dietetic Association recommends 25g of dietary fiber for women and 38g for men on a daily basis. Helps keep blood sugar regular, promotes colon health and keeps you feeling full so you eat less.
- Review Ingredient List. Rule of thumb, the less ingredients the better. The ideal number is no more than 5. When there’s more, you get into artificial additives and preservatives. Also ingredients are listed in the order in which the highest quantity of it is used. Oh and if you can’t pronounce it or sounds a bit too scientific, it is not natural so stay away.
- Get your vitamins. Overall Americans typically don’t have enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron in diets. Check labels to see if your diet is providing you with enough of these nutrients or if adding a supplement to your daily diet would help.
- Lingo at the GreenMarket: The best piece of advice is to ask the vendors questions about their products to understand the ingredients and production process. It is also helpful to understand what certain “buzz” words that are often spotted on banners and on products around the Market such as: cage-free, certified organic, grass-finished and heirloom. Read the guide here: http://matadornetwork.com/life/no-nonsense-guide-to-food-labels-at-farmers-markets/
For more information we referenced the following sources.