There is more to reading a label than looking at the Nutrition Facts (i.e. how many calories, grams of fat/sodium, the package contains)
Here are the 3 things that I personally look at when Iím deciding whether to purchase:
1) Ingredients List
Ideally, the majority of food you purchase should have NO ingredients list at all - Apples, Spinach, Eggs, Chicken - foods that are an ingredient on their own. But if you are purchasing a pre-packaged food item this is what you should be looking for.
Here is an example of what a typical ingredients list on a package of hot dog buns looks like.
You canít even take a quick glance at the ingredients list on a standard packages of hot dogs buns because the list is soooo long! Traditional buns not only use bleaching agents, they also use a host of chemical foaming agents and dough conditioners.
Ingredients: Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat flour, Malted barley flour, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid), water, high fructose corn syrup, yeast. Contains 2% or less of each of the following: soybean oil, salt, wheat gluten, dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: mono-and diglycerides (additive used to extend a products shelf life. Unfortunately, the use of Mono and diglycerides is a trick used by the industry so they arenít required to label the food as containing trans fats. Same chemical stuff, different chemical name.), ethoxylated (emulsifier & foaming agent) mono-and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate (emulsifier & foaming agent), calcium peroxide (bleaching agent), datem (an acronym for Diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides, an emulsifier), ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide (bleaching agent), enzymes, L-cystine), calcium sulfate (dough conditioner better known as plaster of Paris), calcium propionate (preservative), distilled vinegar, yeast nutrients (monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate (dough conditioner better known as plaster of Paris), ammonium sulfate (dough agent) and/or calcium carbonate), corn starch, soy lecithin, milk, soy flour, sesame seeds.
Instead, try an organic sprouted grain bun. Sprouted grain breads are significantly higher in protein, vitamins and enzymes. They are also low on the glycemic index, so they are digested more slowly by the body, keeping your blood sugar levels stable for longer, making you feel more satisfied. It is interesting to note that the more highly processed a food is, the higher on the glycemic index it is.
Ingredients: whole sprouted grains of red wheat berries, quinoa, oat grouts, rye berries, barley, amaranth, and millet, water, wheat flour, 100% domestic honey, vital wheat gluten, yeast, oat fiber, sunflower oil, salt, molasses.
This is the type of label you should be looking for. I can pronounce every single ingredient on the package label and I instantly recognize what it is.
2) ADDED SUGAR
Ok, so letís say you find a product that passes test #1, the ingredients list and all of the ingredients are recognizable. Next we need to take a peek at added sugars.
I am defining added sugars as concentrated sweeteners like granulated sugar, honey, maple syrup, cane syrup, or concentrate fruit juices that are added (either by us or by food manufacturers) to foods. These added sugars, even the so-called ďnaturalĒ ones, supply plenty of calories but no nutritional value.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:
- Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons).
- Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).
To put that into perspective, one 12oz can of coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular sized snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.
I suggest limiting fruit to 2 servings a day anyways, so you donít have to count the natural sugars in fruits toward that total. Itís not that the sugars in fruits donít affect the bodyóthey do, but for one thing, whole fruits also contain important vitamins, minerals and fiber.
I recommend cutting your added sugars to 5% of total daily calories (about 25 grams ó or six teaspoons), which is far below the 13 percent of daily calories that the average American currently gets from sugar.
When purchasing pre-packaged items, look for items that are as close to 4 grams of sugar per serving as possible. (Even pulitzer prize winning auther, Michael Moss, author of Sugar, Salt, Fat limits purchases to 5 grams of sugar or less.)
3) SERVING SIZE
Once a product passes test #1 and test #2 (ingredients are actual foods, sugar content isnít crazy), I check the SERVING SIZE. The reason I do this is to see the TOTAL amount of sugar in the product.
This is something that is very easy to miss, especially if youíre getting a beverage.
Letís take a look at Ella's Nibbly Fingers (Sold a Target and Walmart in the baby food isle, Nibbly fingers are a kids granola bar I like to purchase for Emma as a "treat".)
Nibbly fingers contain only 2 grams of sugar per serving, but a serving size is 1/3 a bar. My daughter never, ever just eats 1/3 of a bar. The actual total grams of sugar is 6 grams per bar, which is pretty darn close to our goal of 4-5 grams.
Start checking your labels:
1) Ingredients list. 2) Sugar content. 3) Servings per container.
Tip: Wanna lighten the burden of reading ingredients labels? Change where you grocery shop. 99% of foods at your local health food store will be 100% healthier than your standard grocery store, while 100% of foods purchased at a local farm will be 100% healthy, whole foods. To find a local farm or farmer's market, visit www.localharvest.org.
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Contributing Writer, Holly Brown - ConsiderMeFit.com