Making Sense of Food Labels

Why are food labels so confusing?

Over the past few decades, walking through the grocery store has gotten much more difficult. Whereas making a healthy choice used to be as easy as avoiding certain aisles, the packaging of every item in every section of the store now boasts health benefits and fewer detriments than other foods. With low-fat, fat-free, low-sodium, and other labels promising better health, getting the right foods can be a confusing task.

So what do all the labels really mean?

No Sugar Added = The only sugars included are sugars that come in this product naturally. Unfortunately, this label isn’t a guarantee that there is no sugar or even minimal amounts of sugar in a certain food. Some foods are naturally filled with large amounts of sugar, so be careful when going for these options.

Sodium Free = Fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving. This can be a particularly deceiving label, as a serving size is usually much smaller than what the average American will eat in one sitting. So before you dig into your favorite sodium-free food, check the label for a serving size. If you’re eating three or four times the recommended serving size, you’re also getting a lot more sodium than you think.

Healthy = While this label means different things to different people, any food that claims to be healthy must pass one test: the sodium-o-meter. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture, any food labeled “healthy” cannot have more than 480 milligrams of sodium in a single portion listed on the label for nutrition information. This isn’t always a serving, so be extra cautious if you have sodium issues and think you can go the “healthy” route without being in harm’s way.

Reduced Fat = When you find this label, don’t get too excited, as it indicates the food has 25 percent less fat than its non-reduced (a.k.a. regular) food peers. While reduced fat only knocks off one-quarter of the fat from a food, that is a significant amount if you eat a lot of a certain food. Besides, every fat gram counts, so cutting out a few here and there is a great way to reduce the overall fat in your diet.

Low Fat = Some of the most available of healthy choices, low-fat foods boast no more than 3 grams of fat per serving. Since anything with 5 grams of fat or fewer is a good choice, low-fat foods are some of the best choices you’ll ever allow your taste buds to enjoy.

Fat Free = Surprisingly, a food that is considered fat free isn’t completely free of fat. However, the amount of fat in such a food is small enough to be considered negligible. In order to gain the label “fat free,” a food can have no more than half of a gram of fat per serving. As with sodium-free foods, serving size is often very small in fat-free foods, so you have to be careful not to eat so much of your favorite fat-free food that you get more fat than you bargained for.


Shopping Success

Ready to use your label know-how to get the healthiest and most beneficial foods for you and your family? Here are some tips to jot on your grocery list and store away in your brain for your next excursion to the grocery store.

• Avoid eating foods that contain added sugar.

• Variety in your diet doesn’t mean eating multiple types of ice cream. It means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

• Serving sizes can be deceiving, so buy and eat with caution!

• Try having your total fat consumption make up less than 25 or 30 percent of your daily caloric intake.

• Watch the amount of sodium you eat each day, as excessive sodium intake can lead to health problems in otherwise healthy individuals.


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