Learning how to read a nutritional label is an essential step when aiming for a healthy lifestyle. It will help you to choose between different products while grocery shopping and also to achieve your personal goals, whether they are to lose or gain weight or just generally to become healthier.
It might seem hard and overwhelming, but with a few tips, you will realize that reading a food label is actually not that complicated.
All pre-packaged foods have a label with the nutritional information as well as the ingredient list on the back side of the product.
Follow along at the provided picture, as we take you through the process of reading a food label.
- Don’t focus strictly on calories! Some foods which are higher in calories might also be high in nutrients (nuts, seeds, meats, avocados…)
- All food labels contain nutritional information per 100g, which is helpful when comparing different products, as serving sizes may vary among different brands.
- Look at how big a single serving is and think of how it compares to your usual serving. Is it higher or lower than what is stated on the packaging? (Hint: manufacturers usually lower the typical serving sizes in order to seem like the food is lower in calories.)
- Take a look at what is the rough ratio of Carbohydrates to Fat to Protein. On a regular day, aim for foods which are lower in Fat and moderate in Carbs and Protein. When it comes to Fat, aim for foods higher in Unsaturated Fat.
- Look at the amount of Sodium. Aim for foods low in Sodium. Too much Sodium leads to fluid retention in the body, which leads to increased blood pressure.
- Look at the amount of Fibre. Aim for foods higher in Fibre! These foods will protect your arteries from the bad LDL cholesterol and keep you fuller for longer.
- Compare the values to the Reference Intake (RI) number, which is the average amounts of calories and nutrients people need. The value is pre-determined at 2000 calories/day for women and 2500 calories/day for men.
Ingredient lists are also located on the back of the packaging, alongside the nutritional label. They list out all the ingredients contained in that particular food.
It is possible to get the sense of whether a food is healthy or not so much at the initial glance at the ingredient list. Generally, the longer ingredient list, the more processed food.
You don’t have to literally read every single ingredient on the list, you should be able to get the idea after a quick look. It is great when the list contains mainly whole and natural ingredients. However, when the list contains mainly things you have never heard of before, it might not be the best choice.
Most abundant ingredients are listed first. Avoid foods which have added sugar, additives, and colorings too high on the list.
Various names for added sugar:
Agave nectar, barley malt, cane crystals, cane juice, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, golden syrup, invert syrup, malt syrup, maltol, maltose, mannose, maple syrup, molasses, palm sugar, panocha, raw sugar, refiner’s syrup, rice syrup, saccharose, sucrose, treacle.