How to Read Nutrition Labels (Level Up Your Grocery Store Habits)
There are many great habits to get into when doing your shopping at the grocery store. Try to shop around the perimeter – that’s where the fruits, vegetables, protein, and least-processed food tends to be. Never shop on an empty stomach, and make a list beforehand. And get into the habit of reading the nutrition labels on the foods you choose to eat.
Of course, nutrition labels can be confusing and it’s hard to know what to focus on. Although all ingredients on nutrition labels are essential to read and understand, a good place to start is to make sure to check through a few key items.
Once you become familiar with the main points, you can move onto the next items. Having a tiered practice when it comes to leveling up on nutritional information can help it seem less overwhelming. And you get a chance to learn some vital information on becoming (and staying) a healthy individual.
Key Terms to Look for
Calories — This term equates to the amount of energy an item of food has per serving. While 2,000 calories is the suggested number to hit each day based on how much the average person eats and expends, the number doesn’t account for age, activity level, height, or other health goals.
Servings (a.k.a “Serving Size” or “Number of Servings Per Container”) — This number is at the top of the list and should be the first thing to look for, since it’s information on how many people one package/container can feed. This number also indicates how much a person should consume (such as 1/4 cup, 2 TBSPs, etc.).
Dietary Fiber — Fiber is what helps fill you up and keeps your body moving healthily. The average person should eat roughly (ignore the pun) 25 grams of fiber a day to continue working correctly. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have a great amount of fiber to keep you healthy.
Fat — Not all fat is bad. There are a few types of fat, like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that your body needs to work (just like fiber). If you are going to get foods with saturated or trans fats in them, make sure the amount of one, or each, is low and within your daily nutrition budget.
Sodium (a.k.a “Sodium Per Serving”) — Sodium is a fancy term for salt. The amount of sodium a person should keep to in their daily diet depends on a lot of health factors, although the average amount is noted at 2,300 mg daily for a healthy person with good eating habits. Anyone else should limit their sodium intake to less or no more than 1,500 mg a day.
Sugar — Sugar has a lot of calories and tends to be on the unhealthier side of things. However, remember that our bodies need sugar to work, too, but there is a difference between harmful sugars and appropriate ones. Unhealthy sugars are refined white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup invert sugar, dextrose, and others. Be aware that many companies will try and hide added sugar on their nutrition labels, so you should be aware of the alternate terms for sugar.
Daily Value (a.k.a “%Value,” “%DV,” or “Daily %”) — This information will give you an estimate of how many nutrients per serving the item you are eating will provide you with daily. Something to keep in mind is that the number on the label is also based on the average person who has ordinary eating habits. If you eat more than recommended, you’ll get more calories, sugars, fats, etc.
Ingredient lists can be a doozy, especially when you first start paying attention to nutrition labels. Anything in the ingredients list can seem to be okay as long as is accompanied by “organic,” “fresh,” “healthy,” or other nondescript buzz words. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy, though.
When you want to change your diet, some things to look out for are words like “refined,” “enriched,” and “processed.” Avoiding highly processed food is a good rule of thumb for improving your diet.
Other information to note is that the first item on the ingredients list is the ingredient that your product in question has the most of. If your bread says “enriched white flour,” “eggs,” and “natural flavoring,” the food is mostly made out of enriched white flour (which means that it is processed, human-made, and far from whole grain, even if the packaging says otherwise).
The Best Practice for Reading a Nutrition Label
Now that you have a quick run-down of where to start, you can level-up on your grocery shopping habits. There are four steps below that you should check, in a similar order, so you can begin to understand what is healthy versus those pesky deceptive labels.
- Start with the serving information (this will give you an idea of how much you can/should eat for a healthy serving).
- Check the calories (per serving).
- Look at the nutrients—there are a certain number of nutrients a day your body needs to keep working at a healthy pace. Learning more about how your body works best with what nutrients can be a great metric to track in a nutrition journal.
- Check out the %DV. Once you understand how much of a daily value your food is, you’ll understand how to eat healthier.
If you need more help with your nutritional needs, reach out to Bee Healthy Clinics. We have a lot of know-how and resources to help you live your healthiest life.