Understanding Food Labels and Ingredients

Monday Lifestyle Education Discussion:

“Understanding Food Labels and Ingredients”

A calorie is not a calorie in the way you think. Food interacts with your unique biology and affects hormones, hunger and satiety in different ways for different people (Think Insulin, Ghrelin, leptin and thermic effect of foods). Protein foods tend to suppress appetite more than, say, a bag of chips. The latter provides instant gratification, while the former provides nutrition and a feeling of fullness. Instead of thinking in terms of a “good” food or “bad” food, think instead of foods in terms of a nutrition scale. In case you were wondering, Krispy Kreme would be very low on that scale but that doesn’t mean it’s “bad.” Much depends on the person and behavior.

The Nutrition Facts Label is intended to guide consumers by providing very basic information. You cannot make sense of the label without reading and understanding the ingredients label. Calories, macronutrients and nutrients all must be understood within the context of the food as a whole. Pay attention to calories, serving size, added sugars, artificial ingredients and high sodium in particular. There are approximately 60 different names for added sugar and if you see these high in the ingredient list, then that means that a large amount of that food is added sugars. If, for example, you’re choosing bread and you see the word “enriched flour” just know that it means it’s refined and not a whole grain. Look for “whole” wheat or 100% whole grain. That means the fiber and nutrients are intact.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend Americans to pay close attention to added sugar, ACTUAL serving size, calories and type of fat (heart-healthy vs heart-unhealthy fats). More on the DGA here:http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/

Understanding nutrition facts labels and ingredients CAN be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Make it a point to attend one of our grocery shopping tours so you can get more practice. Food companies package their products in a way to sell. Look past the shiny design, the special font and green packaging to see what’s really in the food. If you’re going to eat processed foods, then you HAVE to read and understand the back of the package. The nutrition facts and ingredients is the place to go.

About the Author
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Weight Loss Coach specializing in lifestyle transformation