Trying to negotiate the small print, complicated labels, and false advertising on packaged foods at the grocery store can give anyone a headache. Use these 5 simple tips from nutrition pros to make sure you’re making smart choices:
1. Check the Serving Size
Have you ever gotten an iced tea in a can, grabbed a Gatorade after a hard workout, or a big bag of pretzels and consumed the entire thing? Chances are if you read the label you would have consumed 2 to 3 times the recommended serving size for that product. When you read a Nutrition Facts Label, be sure to check how many servings the product contains. This way you’ll have a more actuate grasp of how many calories you’re consuming.
2. Less Sat Fat
While you should aim to keep total calories from fat to about 30% or less per day, only 10% or less should come from saturated fats. Saturated fats are one of the main causes of increased plaque in the arteries. This may lead to heart disease and other cardiac problems. Most women should have no more than 15-17 grams sat fat per day. So go for products low in saturated fat!
3. Be a Sodium Sleuth
You may think that salt is only found in the salt shaker, but many packaged products have added sodium, sometimes for flavor, sometimes as a preservative. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average American consumes more than twice the amount of sodium than they should. The American Heart Association recommends foods with little or no salt to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day and always check the label to know how much you are consuming.
4. Watch Out for Hydrogenated and Partially- Hydrogenated Oils
If you see hydrogenated oils or partially-hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list, put it back on the shelf. Products that contain them are chemically altered so the oils they will be solid at room temperature, but soft and malleable. These oils, also known as “trans fats” can be harmful to your health. In clinical studies, TFA or hydrogenated fats tended to raise total blood cholesterol levels. Some scientists believe they raise cholesterol levels more than saturated fats. TFA also tend to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol when used instead of cis fatty acids or natural oils. These changes may increase the risk of heart disease. And buyer beware: Even if the Nutrition Facts Panel says 0g trans fat, but had a hydrogenated oil listed in the ingredients, it will contain trans fat.
5. Less than 15 Ingredients
Challenge yourself to find packaged foods that contain less than 15 ingredients. If you start seeing several paragraphs under the ingredients list, you’re probably looking at a highly processed food. Ingredients are listed according to decreasing quantity, so if you see “sugar” as the first ingredient, you’ll probably want to skip it.
What to Ignore On Food Labels
Bold Health/Nutrition Claims: What you want to avoid when shopping is all of the supermarket shelf tags, front-of-pack nutrition statements like “all-natural,” “low-fat,” “sugar-free, “reduced in sodium,” because these are intended to get consumers to eat more of specific foods not eat less. They are pure marketing driven and are not intended to help you improve your diet and lose weight. Even the “organic” or “gluten free” claims aren’t cues that the product is good for you.
Next time your searching for a snack or meals for the week, remember to check the labels with a pros eye!
This post was written by AppforHealth.com intern, Alexandra Babcock.