Mar 23 , 2021


Syed Mahmud

Food Labels

Last week, we focused on how the current diet for most people compared to where we should be. This week, we’ll talk about what makes up food and the information put on the labels of food and products that we purchase.

When you look at any packaged food, the nutrition facts label provides a snapshot of the product’s kcal (the unit of energy which provides fuel for our bodies and what we typically just know as "calories") and macronutrient/micronutrient composition.

How to Read Food Labels

The first thing that we tend to see on the label are the breakdown of the three things that provide kcal in the foods/beverages we consume: protein, carbohydrate, fat (which are referred to as macronutrients) and vitamins and minerals (which are referred to as micronutrients).

You’ll also see an ingredient list on the food label. The ingredients will be listed in order of decreasing concentration. Here are a couple good guidelines: if the ingredient list is long, put it back; if you don’t recognize 1 or more ingredients, put it back. You’ll often see different claims made on products as a way to market them. Some examples include:

“Natural” = Largely unregulated by federal agencies and the food can have any derivative of a plant or animal including mold

Sugar Free, Zero Sugar, No Sugar, Without Sugar, Trivial Source of Sugar, Negligible Source of Sugar, Dietarily Insignificant Source of Sugar = Less than 0.5g of sugar per serving

Reduced Sugar, Less Sugar = At least 25% less sugar than the original itemNo Sugar Added, Without Added Sugar = No sugar or ingredients containing sugar were added during processing. The manufacturer must state if a food is not “Low Calorie” or “Reduced Calorie”, but it can still contain unhealthy artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame

Low Fat usually means foods that are highly processed with added sugar. However, fat derived from whole foods is good for you.

10 ingredients to avoid:

  • Hydrogenated fats
  • Artificial food colors
  • Nitrites and nitrates
  • Sulfites
  • Sugar and natural sweeteners
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • MSG
  • Preservatives
  • Artificial flavors
  • Refined flour

The nutritional facts are often less important than the actual ingredients. You want to pick whole food ingredients over low-calorie, low-fat, or low-sugar ones. For example, high sugar listed in the nutrition facts isn’t bad if the food is fruit.

It is easier to build your balanced Fit Plate with whole foods. There are no sections in the plate for highly processed food products. Always make sure you’re looking at the nutrition facts label and ingredient list on products that you purchase as well as how the manufacturers are marketing the product.

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