One of the best ways to lose weight, control your blood glucose levels, and protect your heart is to make sure you know what goes into your food. At the grocery store, the only way to do this is to read the food labels on the packages. There are three main parts of a food label: the ingredients list, the nutrient content claims, and the Nutrition Facts section. Read on to find out how to understand food labels and start making better choices.
The ingredients list
This paragraph tells you what is in the package. It goes in order from most to least, so the first ingredient listed will be what the food is mostly made of. It’s best to avoid foods with preservatives, flavorings, colorings and hydrogenated oils. Always check this list if you have food allergies or sensitivities, to make sure the food will not put you at risk.
Nutrient content claims
What does it mean if a food says it is “low fat,” “low sodium,” or “high in fiber”? Food companies must follow strict rules about what foods can have these words attached to them. These rules include:
- “Fat free”: less than ½ g of total fat or saturated fat
- “Low fat”: less than 3 g of total fat
- “Trans fat free”: less than ½ g per serving
- “Sodium (or salt) free”: less than 5 mg
- “Low sodium (or salt)”: at least 15% less sodium than the regular version
- “High fiber”: more than 5 g per serving
While the nutrient content claims can help you find healthier foods, it’s still important to read the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts to get the full picture.
This is the chart at the top of the food label. The first section will tell you the serving size, and how many of this serving size is in the package. To make heart healthy choices, you will want to choose foods with less fat (especially trans fat) and sodium (salt), and more fiber. The amounts will be shown as:
- Milligrams (one thousandth of a gram)
- Milliliters (for liquids)
Compare labels to find out which foods have the least amount of fat and salt, and the highest amount of fiber. If you want to lose weight, you should also look for foods that are low in calories.