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How to Read a Food Label


The new FDA guidelines now require even more foods to include nutrition labels. This is fantastic news that allows us to make more educated decisions as to what we are putting into our bodies!<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

However, food labels are often packed with so much information that reading them can be intimidating and time consuming. Below is the order in which I read a food label and the ingredients that I look for to make sure the food is truly healthy!

  • Ingredients – The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so the first 3-5 are the most important.  Look for natural ingredients that you recognize and if you see the words Partially Hydrogenated Oil, High-Fructose Corn Syrup or Enriched Flour in the first 5 ingredients you are better off looking for an alternative!
  • Sugar/Fiber – Every carbohydrate that we eat is broken down into sugar to fuel our bodies, but those listed in the sugar section of a label are already found in their simplest form. This is a great source of instant short-term energy for the endurance athlete. For the rest of us, it is important to combine sugar with fiber to help control the rise and fall of our blood sugar. Look for labels with equal amounts of sugar and fiber. This is especially important for things such as cereals or granola bars.
  • Sodium – Just because you aren’t heavy handed with the salt shaker doesn’t mean that you aren’t getting a lot of sodium into your diet. Most of our sodium comes from bread, luncheon meats, pastas and eating out. Look for foods with 5% or less of your Daily Value and avoid those with 20% or more.
  • Calories – Whether you are trying to gain, lose or maintain your current weight you need to pay close attention to this number. Bottom line, if you consume more calories than you expend you will gain weight!
  • Serving Size – Everything on the label is based on this one term, which can be deceiving. Many foods that we think are one serving, like a small bag of chips or a bottled beverage, are actually 2 or more servings. A food or beverage may look perfect on the surface, but if you multiply all the above by the actual number of servings it may sabotage your health goals!

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