It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the dietary information on every food product in the supermarket. Standardized food labels are required on packages and it can make our lives better by making ingredients more transparent. If you have nutrient restrictions, allergies, or diseases including overweight, these labels are a great resource. To the right, you can see an example of a nutrition label and 5 things The American Heart Association recommends looking at when you see a nutrition label on your favorite food.
1. Serving Size- This is where many Americans are unaware of the excess portions they are eating. Moderate your serving sizes to maintain your weight or to lose weight. Look, it’s not fun but neither is doing dishes and we need to do those too.
2. Calories- This is the amount of energy in your food. A Kilocalorie is just a measurement of energy. So the higher calories the more energy. If your “gas tank” is full will you overfill it?
3. Nutrients- These label items help you see what types of usable energy you are getting from your food. Fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, cholesterol, and sodium all may play a role in your eating habits if you have overweight, diabetes, and heart disease or if you want to avoid these diseases. Are you putting in junk or are you going to be able to use the energy efficiently?
4. The percentages on the label are always a handy thing to use when you are trying to determine if your sodium levels need monitoring (hypertension) or if your carbohydrate intake needs attention (diabetes) and if you are trying to lose weight. However, remember these percentages are for a 2000 calorie diet. You may require more calories… Yes, I said you may need more food to effectively lose weight. The timing, quantity, and quality of that food are the next things to discuss with your health care professional.
The process of reviewing labels starts at the supermarket. This is where decisions are made. Either you are going to buy cookies or you are going to buy spinach. The slippery slope starts there. Once the “junk” food is in your house the only way to moderate its effects on your health is to watch the labels and the portions of the foods you eat. The best way to do that is by reading labels. I am not promoting calorie counting. I am promoting awareness and education, and that starts by looking at labels at the store before food is in your pantry.
As you look at food labels, ask yourself these three questions:
- How hungry am I?
- What is a serving size?
- Why am I eating this?