Learn how to interpret the chart on the back of the box
How often do you read food labels? Most folks our age don’t. But today’s the day to change that. Read more about why food labels are so important for our health and what to look out for.
Food labels help inform you about what exactly you’re putting in your body. For example, if your doctor wants you to watch your sugar or sodium intake, being able to know how much sugar or sodium is in a serving can help you stay on top of your health. Also, labels help you know what the actual serving sizes are, an issue that many of us struggle with when it comes to portion control.
A calorie is a measure of how much energy you are getting from the serving of food. Food labels will let you know how many calories there are per serving. According to the FDA, if something is 50 calories or less, that is considered low in calories; 100 is a moderate amount and 400 or more is too much.
The nutrients section lets you know how many nutrients the food you’re eating has, compared to how much you need in a day. If it’s 5 percent or less, you’re getting poor nutrient content. Ten to 20 percent is good. FYI: To get the full amount of nutrients and vitamins each day, you have to rely on unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, nuts and lean meats.
On one hand, you’re told to cut down the fat, which makes “fat-free” foods appealing. But those foods can come with a price—high saturations of other bad stuff. The key is to cut down on bad fats, like trans fats, and eat more good fats, like those that come from olive oil and avocados.
According to the American Heart Association, a whopping 77 percent of our salt intake comes from the processed foods that we eat. So we need to pay attention. While most Americans are recommended a diet of 2,300 milligrams of salt, blacks are told to consume less—1,500 milligrams a day. Our advice? Leave foods that have sodium levels of 500 mg or more at the grocery store.
We have to cut back on sugar to lose weight, but that can be hard given how sugar is in nearly everything. But even if you look at the label, keep in mind that there are hidden sugars that aren’t included in that number. According to Health.com, look for and avoid labels with words like “sweetener,” “syrup” or ingredients ending in “-ose” like fructose or “sucralose.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) work together to regulate foods and make sure that companies are being honest about what they claim is in their products. For example, a food cannot be labeled organic if it’s not 95 percent made from organic materials.