Healthy Lifestyle

Food Labels 101

By The Edith Sanford team

March 6, 2014

Food labels have been in the news a lot lately. An updated, more user-friendly version of that familiar black and white grid is due to debut next year.

But you shouldn’t wait a whole year to start paying attention to the important information on your food packaging. Here are a few tips to help you make the best choices for your health – today!

Pay attention to serving size

We’ve all done it—devoured a bag of chips that advertised only “120 calories per serving.” Then, while shaking the crumbs into our mouth, noticed that a serving size is just six measly pieces. Oops.

One of the best ways to control your fat, calorie and sugar intake is to be aware of the serving size of what you’re eating.

Fats – the good, the bad and the ugly

You might choose a snack that seems to be relatively low in fat and think you’re making a smart choice, but have you looked at what’s beyond “Total Fat?”

Don’t ignore the amounts of poly or monounsaturated (good), saturated (bad) and trans (ugly) fats that make up the total fat grams. Aim for foods with monounsaturated fats, strictly limit saturated fats and stay far, far away from trans fats.

Sugar ≠ Sugar

Food labels helpfully point out how much sugar is in a serving, but not all sugars are created equal.

The naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy can be part of a healthy diet, but look out for added sugars that may be disguised by terms like syrup, cane or dextrose. Those sneaky sugars can add up quickly, without providing any nutritional value.

Sodiummmm…?

We know that excessive sodium in our diets is a bad thing, but how much is too much and how can food labels help us avoid it?

According to data from the CDC, the average, healthy adult should consume no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day, but most of us are taking in a whopping 3,400 mg!

To help limit your sodium consumption, make sure that you check food labels to ensure that any processed or packaged foods you buy contain less than 300 mg per serving. Better yet, avoid the processed stuff and head straight for the (low sodium!) fruits and vegetables!

Reading food labels can make you feel like you’re trying to interpret hieroglyphics, but with a little knowledge and preparation, you can make better decisions for better health! For more guidance, here’s a great guide from the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.