8 Steps to Decipher Food Labels and Make Healthier Choices
By Renell Cronk, BS, RDN, LD
The first step to making healthy food choices is knowing exactly what’s in the food you’re about to consume. Unfortunately, food manufacturers don’t always make it easy to know everything that’s in a particular food product, and hidden ingredients can wreck any diet.
It’s also important to understand what the values on a nutrition label mean, so you are able to make the right choices when it comes to protein, calories, fat, carbs, sodium and other nutrients.
If you want to make healthier choices for you and your family, here are eight steps to deciphering food labels:
1. Start with Serving Size and # of Servings Per Container — If the serving size is one cup and there is a total of about eight servings per container, then one container equals about eight cups.
2. Check the Calories Per Serving and Total Calories — If the calories per serving is 140 in an eight-cup container, then the calories per container is 1120 calories. If you were to have half of the container you would consume 560 calories.
3. Move On to % Daily Value — This portion of the label tells you the percent of each nutrient in a single serving. For example, if the label lists six percent for calcium, it means that one serving provides six percent of the calcium you need each day. % DV are based on a 2,000 calorie diet for healthy adults As a reference, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as sodium), choose foods with a % DV of five percent or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), seek foods with % DV of 20 percent or more.
4. Get Healthy Fat and Avoid the Others — Avoid trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Focus on trying to get healthy fats in your diet, such as coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil and try to limit oils like canola, soy and corn.
5. Limit Sodium — It is recommended that adults consume less than 2300 milligrams of sodium a day.
6. Calculate Net Carbs — Aim to keep your net carbs between 20 and 100 grams per day for weight loss. Use this equation to calculate net carbs: Total Carbohydrates - Dietary Fiber - (Sugar Alcohols) = Net carbohydrates.
7. Protein is Key — Consume 60 to 100 grams of protein daily. If you are taller, you should aim to be near the higher end of that range. It is best to space your protein intake to about 20 to 30 grams every three to four hours.
8. Look at the Ingredient List — Ingredients are listed in order by weight, the first items on the list make up the bulk of the food. Look for food labels that contain unprocessed and recognizable ingredients. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, don’t recognize the ingredients or sugar is one of the first ingredients, put the product back on the shelf.
About the Author
Renell Cronk is a Registered Dietitian with PsyMed, Inc. She helps educate and prepare Nicholson Clinic patients before and after surgery with meal planning, recipe ideas, nutrition education and more. Nothing gives Renell a greater feeling of accomplishment and joy than helping individuals achieve their health, lifestyle and nutrition goals.