Healthy eating starts with the food label. From grams and percentages to organic and non-GMO stickers, it is no wonder we are confused about what to buy. In order to bring simplicity back to grocery shopping, check out our five food label hacks and see what you should really be looking for.
1. Check the Serving Size
Next time you pour a bowl of cereal or grab a handful of chips, check the serving size. Located at the top of every food label is a key fact that we tend to overlook. Calories add up fast when we accidentally double the portion by not measuring the correct amounts. Serving sizes also apply to more than just food. Many times coffee, energy drinks, and sports drinks sneak in multiple servings per bottle. Keeping an eye on this little number will do wonders for your purse strings and your waistline.
2. Gluten Free Does Not Equal Healthy
The growing trend of gluten free eating comes with a few misconceptions, the worst being that all gluten free foods are healthy. Many are usually lower carb but composed of higher fat calories. A gluten free cookie is still a cookie, providing little to no nutritional benefits. For those making the life change, whether it be for dietary needs or just a change of pace, label reading is still a must.
3. Know Your Macros: Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates
Macronutrients are essentially the big ticket items for your dietary needs. You can easily find fat, protein, and carbohydrate grams on all labels. Thanks to the FDA, fats are now broken down to show the amount of saturated and trans fats in an item. Carbohydrates are shown in grams of total usable energy as well. That number includes sugar alcohols and insoluble fiber, which are also listed on a label. To get the “net carb total,” simply subtract any sugar alcohols and insoluble fiber numbers from the total grams of carbohydrate.
4. Watch Out for Trendy Marketing Verbiage
"Heart healthy," "low sodium," and "fat free" have become popular attention grabbers down grocery aisles. Packaging products is less about nutritional research and more to do with psychological sales. These common buzz words make us feel like we are buying healthy products, but in many cases that isn’t true. Trigger words such as “no preservatives”, “100% whole wheat,” and “100% fruit juice” are good things to look for on the packaging. But the most surefire way to know the contents in your food is to flip the box over and read the ingredient list.
5. The Order of Ingredients Matters
The first 5 ingredients listed on the label are the main products in your food. If sugar is listed first, it means a good portion of your calories will come from sugar. The shorter the ingredient list, the less fillers and empty calories you will consume.