What you need to know about food labels

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If you want to shed some pounds or want to start a healthier lifestyle, it’s then key that you start taking a closer look at what you are buying and eating. Understanding the basic differences between what’s organic, light or processed helps, it is a start. Yet that alone won’t make it. Reading food labels is your best tool to plan a healthy, balanced diet.

Before you buy it

Get familiar with the nutrition facts label — a boxed panel required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on most packaged food and beverage products, as defined by Mayo Clinic staff. These labels detail the ingredients and nutrition facts per serving; calories, carbohydrates, sugars, trans fat, sodium, protein, vitamins, minerals, colorants, preservatives and more. For that reason, don’t just grab it. Read it first. Remember, this is a major step towards a healthier you.

How to read food labels

I used to be the kind of person that didn’t worry about numbers and unpronounceable words. But to be honest, reading a simple label before buying a single item can improve your health significantly. Whether you want to prepare a homemade cheesecake or grab a full spoon of peanut butter, pay attention to the following factors:

Nutritional food label

  • Portions: Have you ever eaten an entire bag of so called ‘low calorie’ popcorn? Well, I have. And this is what I learned: if you eat more than the recommended serving you’ll be doubling or tripling those calories. Remember: recommended portions are often less of what you are used to eat. So measure carefully.
  • Fat:  Saturated fat is usually linked to heart disease. So try to find products with less than 4 grams per serving. On the other hand, trans fat should not be part of our diet as it raises the commonly called “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Whenever you see it on anything you are about to buy, you can be sure that that product was processed. Not good at all. Skip it.
  • Carbohydrates: Loved by many, hated by few. Carbs are composed by sugar and fiber. To be on the healthy side, look for less than 6 grams of sugar and more than 4 grams of fiber. Otherwise, you’ll be absorbing more fat and sugar rather than speeding up your metabolism.
  • Protein: Protein gets trickier because the amount we need daily changes with age. Overall for adults, doctors recommend that 35 percent of their daily food intake should be protein. Why? Protein helps to build tissue and muscle, acts as a fuel and helps speed up your metabolism. Protein deficiency carries a list of consequences.

Last but not least

Pay attention to the ingredients list. These are usually placed in order of relevancy/weight. Avoid those with refined sugar, refined flours, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils (trans fat), especially if you see them on the first five ingredients.

Be aware of those hard-to-pronounce words. If you can’t read it, don’t eat it.

The information presented on this site is not a substitution for professional healthcare advice. Always consult your doctor for questions or guidance on medical problems and conditions.

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