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The other day I was in the grocery store shopping for turkey burgers. I went into the store knowing exactly was I was looking for. At least I thought I did. Until I started looking around and realized just how many choices there were.
They had low fat turkey burgers, full fat turkey burgers, spicy turkey burgers, and some claiming to be “all natural”. With all of these choices I realized just how important it is to read food labels. There were so many brands claiming to be “healthy” yet the ingredient list had 10+ items, and some I didn’t even recognize!
So in order to help all of you make smarter food choices I want to go over the basics of how to read food labels! Food labels, also known as nutrition fact labels, are required by law to be on all food packaging. So here are the basics of what you need to know:
1. Serving Size
Always start by reading the serving size. It shows you how much food equals one serving. However make sure to compare your portion to the recommended serving size. For example, if the serving size is 1 cup of yogurt, and you will be eating 2 cups, you need to double all of the nutrition information. This is where a lot of companies try to trick you. They might list a serving size as 1/2 of the bottle, when they know that most people will drink the entire bottle at once.
Next take a look at the calories in each serving. Our bodies require calories to function. Calories come from the 3 macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Again, if you will be eating 2 servings of the food, you will need to double the calories. The amount of calories you need depends on you age, gender, size, and activity level.
Food labels break down fat into 3 main categories: saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat. They will also sometimes include trans fat, which you want to avoid completely. In general, you want to limit your saturated fat intake, and consume most of your fat from unsaturated sources (however there are a few exceptions to this rule).
4. Cholesterol & Sodium
According to the Office for Disease Prevention, you daily intake of cholesterol should be no more than 300 mg, and no more than 200mg if you are considered at risk for heart disease. Sodium is found in salt, and the American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to less than 1500mg a day.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Total carbohydrates on a food label have two subcategories: fiber and sugar. When it comes to sugar, the American Heart Association wants you to limit added sugar. to less than 9 tsp for men and less than 6 tsp for women. Diabetics will need to keep a close eye on carbohydrates in food, because they are broken down into sugars during digestion.
Protein is important for the body because it is used to build muscle and fight infection. Protein can also help keep you full for longer, which makes it an important component of each meal.
I realize that there are lot of things to look at on a food label, but it gets easier over time. Knowing what to look for will help save you a lot of time in the grocery store. If you need help with healthy eating and don’t know where to start, check out my online health coaching programs today. My Healthy Habits program really dives deeper into healthy eating and can completely change your relationship with food in just 90 days!