Between this week’s Eat Well to Live Well with Kellie Hill show about Processed Foods and attending the Natural Products Expo West last weekend, the importance of reading nutrition data, food labels, and the ingredient list has really, really hit home. Optimal health comes from nutrient dense whole foods but occasionally we have to choose a processed food, so its critical to understand how to make the best choice in order to have the least adverse affect on our health. So, let’s go over what to look for when you are considering a packaged food item.
A Quick Scan for Nutrition Data
Nutrition Data – Portion Size
When you’re eating nutrient dense whole foods, portion size isn’t as important as when you are purchasing packaged products. Find more about portion sizing with this video.
Start with the serving size which will be at the top of the nutrition data fact label. Look at what the food label says is one serving. Manufacturers may produce drinks and foods in packages that are more than one serving even though people typically eat or drink the entire package. For example, a 12 oz can of Coca Cola is one serving but a 20 oz bottle of Coca Cola is 2 ½ servings according to the food label, even though most people think of a 20 oz bottle as one serving. If you don’t look at the serving size the calories, carbohydrates, and grams of sugar are less according to the 20 ounce bottle’s food label because the serving size is actually smaller / 8 ounces versus 12 ounces in the can. Just make sure you are comparing like serving sizes between products and that you are basing the information on what you will actually be consuming.
Nutrition Data – Fats
Nutrition Data – Sugar
Next, on the nutrition data fact food label look at the line indicating sugar grams. When it comes to sugar, you have to do some math. 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day depends on gender. For men it’s 150 calories per day which is 37 ½ grams or 9 teaspoons. For women it’s 100 calories per day which is 25 grams or 6 teaspoons. So, let’s use a 16 oz Coca Cola as an example. A 16 oz drink, which is considered a small at fast food restaurants, has 54 grams of carbohydrates listed on the food label, all of which are sugar / divide the 54 grams by 4 to learn that it’s 13 ½ teaspoons of sugar. Remember to multiple that by the number of servings you’re drinking based on the nutrition data food label. Ask yourself is this small coca cola really worth 13 1/2 teaspoons of sugar? For a female, that 16 oz Coke is more than two days worth of added sugar.
For more information about sugar, it’s effect on our health, and why we want to minimize sugar listen to Eat Well to Live Well with Kellie Hill radio show about sugar or watch my sugar video. I also have handouts, alternate names for sugar and healthier sweetener options for free on my website. If you’re ready to got off the sugar roller coaster consider a 14 day Sugar Detox.
Food Labels – Ingredient List
The next step in determining which processed foods are more nutritious is to read the ingredient list. This is the most important piece I want you to pay attention to when considering a processed food. This is where we really find out what is in our foods.
Ingredients on the ingredient list are listed in order from the greatest weight in the product, to the least. Usually, the fewer the ingredients, the better. If there’s a long list of words you can’t pronounce or don’t know what they are / leave that item on the shelf.
When you’re reading the ingredient list on the food label look at the number of additives / both artificial and those highlighted as “natural”. Choose the product with the fewest additives.
Remember; also check the ingredient list for trans fats by the names of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
If it’s made from any grain, check that it’s made from a whole grain. Look for the word “whole” before the word “grain” on the ingredient list food label to ensure you’re getting a whole grain product. Or it should read 100% whole grain. Healthy sounding words like multi-grains may still be processed refined flours from just a bunch of different grains. We want to eat whole grains because most of the phytonutrients are found in or immediately under the outer fibrous layer of the grains. Processing removes this phytonutrient rich outermost layer of the plant food.
More General Information
For more information about ingredient lists, nutrition data, food labels, and packaged boxes watch these free videos.
For more information about reading labels, nutrition data, food labels, and tips to make the most of your time listen here.