With so many food products lining supermarket shelves, you may feel like you need to spend hours deciphering the nutritional information on food labels to know how to make smart and healthy choices.
Certainly, label reading has become more complex as processed food products contain more health claims than years ago.
Decoding food labels doesn't require lots of time but it does require knowing some of the basics. Here are some tips to guide you:
1. Survey serving sizes. Since the calorie count is most important when it comes to losing weight, you need to understand that it's really the calories per serving that matters most. Case in point – you may need to do a little calculation if you plan on consuming the whole package and find out that the whole package contains 2 serving sizes and each serving contains 120 calories (240 calories will be your total calorie damage). Also, know that some products appear as though they should serve one, but a closer look at the food label reveals something different.
2. Take note of trans fats. The American Heart Association recommended limit for trans fats is less than 2 grams of trans fats per day. The problem is that food labels are allowed to put 0 trans fats on products that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. If you eat many of these products, you can exceed these limits. To help you make smarter choices, choose products that don't contain partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list and with lower levels of saturated fats.
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3. Focus on fiber. Fiber is being added to many new products today like yogurt, breakfast or granola bars and even cookies. Yes, you want to choose products with the most fiber (3 or more grams of fiber per serving) but it's also true that the best sources of fiber are still beans, fruits and vegetables, oatmeal and whole grain cereals. Hang out in the produce aisle to view the produce products that are naturally high in fiber and don't require any food label reading.
4. Understand immunity claims. You may have noticed that more products have immunity claims like "helps support a healthy immune system." Sure, we all want to have a stronger immune system and be able to fight disease better but there's really little scientific evidence that specific foods benefit the immune system. Currently the FDA is reviewing the suitability of product claims like these.
Hopefully these four tips will help you streamline your label reading and focus on finding the right foods to help you lose weight and boost your health at the same time.