Processed Food (3) -  Reading and Interpreting Food Labels

Processed Food (3) - Reading and Interpreting Food Labels

I'm sure many of you use food labels religiously. They are the best way to gauge the nutritional value of packaged and canned foods. So, if you're not using them, I would recommend that you take enough time during shopping to stop, to read, and to compare labels in order to determine what to buy and what to avoid.

Today's post is just a quick review of the sections on most food labels and what they are telling you.

1. Ingredients

Probably the most important section of the food label is the list of ingredients. Although the ingredients aren't at the top of the food label, I've decided to list this section  first because this list tells you what is in the food. And, after all, what's in the food is the deal breaker.

When reading the list of  ingredients, watch  for words you can understand and readily identify as food. If a label has  a preponderance of words you don't know, that look like scientific terminology, BEWARE. Today, "food" contains a lot of non-food items and chemicals.  You can look the words up, or you can just make a rule to eat only packaged food that has real food ingredients. 

Note that ingredients as listed on the label are listed in order from the ingredient that is the most prevalent in the food to the least. This may make a difference in your choosing that food.  For example, if you are choosing something because you think it is mostly apples, but the label has sugar and flour as the first couple ingredients and apple flavoring is way down the list, you might want to look for something else.


2. Serving information. 

Serving information usually includes what is considered to be the size of one serving and how many servings are in that container, can, or package. This is important information. Don't skip it. A few years back I was shocked that a pint of  Haagen Dazs ice cream was not a single serving. That little pint sure looked like a single serving to me, but the  package said that there were 3.5 servings in that pint. Wha???? I guess that in order to make the calorie level sound acceptable, they needed to divide the calories into 3.5 parts.   So watch for mathematical tricks such as that. 

3. Calorie information

This section tells how many calories per serving and usually how many calories from fat. Some diets go by the recommendation that you shouldn't eat more than 30% of your calories from fat per day.  Others are lower than this.  Check this area to determine how many carlories come from fat and if that is acceptable to you.

4. Daily Values

This section is usually called Daily Values or just % Daily. These are the major areas that people track such as fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein. Most labels usually have a list of vitamins and how much of what you need daily is included in the produce. If you are tracking any of these items you probably know what are the particular parameters you are aiming to maintain. Or if you just want to be healthier, then these numbers will be good to monitor.  


Fat is listed as Total Fat, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat. Generally, it is recommended to keep fat in the diet to 44 to 78 grams. However, consulting your physician on this is wise. Many people avoid saturated fat and trans fat completely.


People who are concerned with cholesterol usually want to keep it low. If you have high LDL, you may want to check with your physician regarding how much cholesterol to allow in your food daily.


If you have high blood pressure, then you'll probably want to monitor sodium. Even if your blood pressure is normal, remember that salt is added to processed foods to make them taste better, but salt also helps the company addict you to that food item.


There is lots of controversy as to whether a high carb low fat diet is better or if a low carb high fat diet is better. Personally I shoot for the former, but you'll have to make your own decision on this one. 


Fiber is great for you. And it is super for digestions as it keeps things moving and fills you up. Therefore, it's great for those trying to lose weight. Generally, it's good to get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in your diet.


Sugar is another item that is packed into foods to make you love them. It has no nutritional value and will addict you to the food, So, it's best to keep the sugar low.


The general equation for determining how much protein you need is: weight x .4 = the grams of protein you need daily. Applying this formula to someone who weighs 150 pounds is 150 x .4 = 60 grams of protein needed daily.


Vitamins are listed by percentage of what you need daily.  Remember you'll be getting them in other foods too, so you don't need to get 100% of each vitamin in that one label.

*Many vegans, especially those who eat a whole-food, plant based diet also avoid SOS (salt, oil, and sugar). I'll leave that decision up to you as I'm still figuring out how much of each of those I will use, too

be kind - be the change

be the healthiest version of yourself.

Oh Yum: Dr. Praegers California Burger

Oh Yum: Dr. Praegers California Burger

Protein - How much do you need and where to get it

Protein - How much do you need and where to get it