In a perfect world, we’d buy fresh and prepare everything ourselves everyday. However, with the fast-paced and busy lives many of us lead, it is sometimes easier to just grab packaged foods and go.
Choosing the right packaged products isn’t however obvious, which is why it is important to know how to read nutrition labels and not allow false marketing to ruin your healthy lifestyle.
We’ve listed below quick tips on what you should look out for when buying packaged products:
- Be aware of the actual serving size: Unhealthy snack foods tend to list much smaller serving sizes than what the average person ends up eating. So, if you are going to eat that whole ‘snack size’ bag of chips, double-check that there may actually be 2.5 servings per bag according to the manufacturer
- Don’t stop at the number of calories: Instead of simply focusing on the number of calories listed, focus on how nutrient dense a food is. If it has lots of protein, fiber, healthy fats and vitamins in a moderate number of calories, then go for it! You don’t want to be consuming ‘empty calories,’ or foods with little nutritional value. For instance, sugar is considered empty calories as it does nothing to nourish your body
- Don’t rely on Percent Daily Values (or % DVs): The Daily Value (DV) is the amount of each nutrient that’s considered sufficient for most healthy adults. These are however based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet. The amount of calories a person actually needs will vary depending on age, gender, physical activity, goals, and countless other factors. It is useful to note however that food that contains anywhere from 10 percent to 19 percent of the DV is considered a good source of a nutrient
- Not all carbs are created equal: All carbohydrates, except fiber, break down to glucose or blood sugar. As such the more fiber a product has the less carbohydrates are turned to glucose. In fact, foods containing fiber take longer to digest, which means they have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly ,as opposed to foods such as white bread and white potatoes which contain mostly starch and little fiber or other beneficial nutrients. So instead of avoiding carbohydrates all together, just choose sources of carbohydrates that are also high in fiber such as root vegetables and whole grains.
Note that if you see the word enriched before a grain, it’s a sign that the grain has been refined, meaning it has been stripped of the germ and bran, which pack most of the grain’s nutrients including fiber. So make sure you spot the word whole before the name of any grain, as in whole wheat. Popcorn, oatmeal and quinoa are considered whole grains for instance.
- Don’t be afraid of fats: There are good fats (yes we did just say GOOD FATS!) and bad fats. The good stuff such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, provide the precursors for hormones, increases insulin sensitivity (helping control blood sugar levels) and improves skin health while bad fats such as trans fats and saturated fats are bad for you because they raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease
- It’s all about the ingredients: Personally, when I pick a product, the first thing I look at is the ingredient list. As a general rule, the more natural ingredients and fewer ingredients you can’t pronounce, the better. It’s likely that many of them are preservatives and chemical additives.
Note that ingredients are listed in order of volume, meaning if sugar is the first ingredients, then the product contains more sugar than it does any other ingredient, so put it back down on that shelf and walk away (naturally occurring sugar won’t be listed here).
Some other ingredients you should steer clear of include cheap oils like safflower, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed oils. These oils have recently been replacing trans fats in a lot of foods, but they are not any better.
- Compare products for healthier choices: One of the best ways to make healthy food choices is to compare similar items side-by-side. For instance, if one is higher in fiber and protein but lower in sodium than the other, you can at least feel confident that you are making the healthier choice out of the two
We hope this was helpful!
Please leave your comments below and let us know if you have any questions.