Learn how to improve your diet and your health by reading food labels
You’re on your way to the grocery store armed with your shopping list. You’ve got meal plans in mind for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a few snacks.
But are your food choices healthy? Before you drop stuff into your shopping basket, take a minute to read each food label.
Why? It’s a simple way to help you improve your diet and your health. In recent study, researchers found that people who read food labels are healthier and have better success with weight management
Ready to go shopping? Click here to view the FDAs recommendations or read on.
Below provides a good snapshot of what to look for on the food label:
Check the list of ingredients on the food label. The list is organized by amount from largest to smallest. Two unhealthy culprits to watch out for…high-fructose corn syrup and refined grains. If the food is highly processed, the ingredients list will likely include chemicals, food colors, and additives. Fewer ingredients usually means the food is healthier or less processed.
2. Serving Size
How much is a serving size? You might be surprised by how small a serving size actually is. Check the food label, and measDiature it out if you have to. Besides the eye-ball test, weighing, or measuring your food, your hand can help you estimate serving size. For example:
- A fist or cupped hand = 1 cup, or a serving size of cereal, yogurt, rice, or milk
- A thumb = 1 ounce, or a serving size of cheese
- A thumb tip = 1 teaspoon, or a serving size of peanut butter or mayonaise
- A handful = 1 to 2 ounces, or a serving size of nuts, chips, or pretzels
- A palm = 3 to 4 ounces, or serving size of meat for an adult
- A tennis ball = 1/2 cup or serving size of fruits or vegetables
If want to manage your weight, knowing how many calories you’re consuming per day can help. Here’s what the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends for adults:
Women: 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day
Men: 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day
If you’re not used to keeping track of calories, this might not mean a lot to you. Here’s another way to look at it. A typical fast food meal with a burger, fries and soda contains about 1,000 calories or more. Eating more calories than you need is a recipe for weight gain and other health problems. Check calories per serving size and keep track directly in the FitLyfe Platform or in a synced smart device. To access the nutrition tracker in the FitLyfe Platform by clicking on “View My Progress” from the personal goal widget on the home page. Then click on the nutrition link. After entering your daily intake the system will provide a breakdown of calories, carbs, fat, protein, sodium, sugar and fiber. In addition, you can easily track water consumption on this same page and you will have a comprehensive snapshot of your daily intake.
Tip: Use your smart watch, fitness tracking device, or mobile app to keep track of how many calories you burn per day. Most apps will automatically adjust caloric intake requirement when you also track exercise.
4. Percent Daily Value
Ever noticed this number on a food labels. It’s in the right column on a food label. And it shows you the recommended Percent Daily Value for each nutrient a serving provides. Each value is based on 2,000 calories a day. Pay attention to:
- Total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol: Aim to keep Percent Daily Value below 5 percent.
- Vitamins and minerals: Aim to keep Percent Daily Value above 20 percent.
How much sodium do you consumer per day? It’s on the food label. Fast food, processed meats, and canned soups are all high in sodium. The average adult consumes about 3,500 mg of sodium per day. But health experts recommend less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day to manage blood pressure and improve heart health.
Tip: Check your blood pressure. Normal is less than 120/80. Compare it to the last time you had your blood pressure checked. You can also track blood pressure in your synced smart device.
If you eat a lot of processed and packaged foods and snacks, chances are pretty good you’re eating too much sugar. It’s added to all kinds of foods like drinks, cereals, sauces, granola bars, and more.
Too much sugar can lead to weight gain and other chronic diseases. Read food labels to limit the amount of sugar you consume.
How much sugar is safe? The American Heart Association recommends the following:
- Men: No more than 36 grams of sugar per day
- Women: No more than 20 grams of sugar per day
Tip: Are you at risk for diabetes? Check your blood glucose scores from your last biometric screening in the FitLyfe Platform. According to the American Diabetes Association an A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 or a blood sugar > 126 is considered at risk for developing Diabetes.
Some packaged foods can be a good source of fiber. Eating fiber-rich foods helps control blood sugar levels, improve digestion, lower cholesterol, and support weight management. Examples include:
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
- Brown rice or quinoa
- Beans or legumes
- Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber
Read food labels and aim to eat more fiber based on the following guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
- Women: 25 grams of fiber per day
- Men: 38 grams of fiber per day
8. Before you buy, pay attention to these food packaging labels
If you’re thinking about buying healthier food, you might think grabbing organic or natural food might be good enough. But these branding messages might not be as healthy as you think. Here’s what you need to know.
Natural: Ever seen a food label branded with words like Natural, All-natural, or Made with Natural Ingredients? It’s a clever way to make you think you’re buying healthier food, but it may not be true. No government or industry standards exist that define natural.
Organic: Packages labeled Organic, must follow guidelines created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It means the food is made with 95 percent organic ingredients without synthetic ingredients or growth hormones, chemicals and pesticides, or antibiotics. If the label says Made with Organic Ingredients, it must by at least 70 percent organic.
Whole Grains: Just because a package says Contains Whole Grains, doesn’t mean it’s a healthy food. Based on standards created the Whole Grains Council, 51 percent of grain in a food must be whole grains (not refined grains) to be labeled a whole-grain food. Here’s an easy way to check. One serving of a whole-grain food should contain 8 g of fiber or more.
Ready to go shopping and improve your diet?
Take a minute to read food labels. It’s a good habit to help you make better food choices, manage calories, and improve your health.
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