Read it before you eat it!
The best place to start making better food choices is with the food label. Choosing healthier foods will become a breeze when you understand how to read the label.
The calories and nutrition information on a food label are for the serving size listed at the top. In this sample label of macaroni and cheese, the calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals are for 1 cup of macaroni and cheese.
Servings per container
This tells you how many servings the package contains. Be careful because all too often we eat an entire package not realizing we just ate 3 or 4 servings. Before you polish off that box of macaroni and cheese, take note of the fact that those 250 calories listed are just for half the box. Eating the whole box would mean downing 500 calories.
Calories and calories from fat
This tells you how many calories are in the food you’re about to eat and how many of those calories come from fat. Almost half of the calories in this box of mac-n-cheese come from fat!
% Daily Value (% DV)
This shows you how the food fits into a 2000-calorie diet. Keep in mind that your calorie needs may be more or less than 2000. Here’s what the numbers mean:
- 5% or less of the Daily Value is low. Aim low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium
- 20% or more of the Daily Value is high. Aim high in fiber, vitamins and minerals
Looking at the % DV, you’ll notice that macaroni and cheese is high in sodium and calcium, and low in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and iron.
Trans fat, sugar and protein have no assigned % DV. You’ll want to choose foods with 0 grams of trans fat and the least amount of sugar. Sugar includes both natural sugars (like those found in fruit and milk) and added sugars. Although unsweetened applesauce has 8 grams of sugar per serving, it’s a perfectly healthy choice. Unlike the sugar in a can of soda, fruit sugar is natural. Added sugars can hide out in the ingredients panel in any of these forms:
* Brown sugar * Fructose
* Corn sweetener * Invert sugar
* Corn syrup * Lactose
* Dextrose * Malt syrup
* Fruit juice concentrates * Maltose
* Glucose * Molasses
* High fructose corn syrup * Raw sugar
* Honey * Sucrose
* Sugar * Syrup
The ingredients list:
Ingredients in the largest amount are listed first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.
The bottom line: Don’t pick your foods blindly. Make informed decisions about what you eat! Keep in mind that the healthiest foods you can get your hands on actually don’t even come with a food label or list of ingredients. Yep, you guessed it…fruits and vegetables!
Listen, you only have one body, so if you haven’t been particularly kind to it lately, start by doing two things:
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
2. Pay attention to the labels on your food —especially those in your very own kitchen!