Understanding Food Labels: The Basics
Grocery Shopping. A dreaded task to many. It can be this overwhelming experience. You can be left feeling clueless and thrown into the rabbit hole with no landing in sight. Is this a Real Food or a Processed Real Food. Wait? Processed Real Food? That is a thing. You bet it is.
Before you throw in the towel, let's just pull it back a bit. Take a few steps back and keep things at it's simplest. The simplest is typically, the easiest to navigate. It is ok for things to be easy. Life is hard enough as it is. So give yourself a break when it comes to your nutrition.
General Rule Of Thumb
When shopping for food think Real Foods. Foods that nourish the body without any preservatives. You can think "Earth to Table" or "Seed to Plate" You may find these foods easier from local farmers or suppliers. The farmer's markets are a great resource for Real Foods. When it comes to food items that are packaged or in a box. Keep it even more simple. If you cannot read ALL of the items in the ingredients, chances are it is not necessarily a whole food and could have some type of perservative in it.
Reading The Labels
So now you understand real food. So what do these labels tell us really.
- Serving Sizes- The first thing typically found on a label. A quantity that one person would typically eat. Look for this and the number of servings in each package. Compare these numbers because the label is based on the one serving, so if you eat two servings. All the information on the label needs to be doubled.
- Calories- Although I am not one to count calories. They are clearly listed on all food labels. Calories are a unit of energy measured to express the amount of energy in a food.
- % Daily Values- The average level of nutrients for a person eating 2000 calories. % DV are for the entire day and not per snack or meal. Some people may require more or less than the averages. This is why food labels are just a guideline.
- The High and Lows of the %DV- This is where it can get tricky because low values of 5% or less can be good depending on what they measure. Typically, saturated fat was something to avoid. As we know now this may not always be the case. However, you may want to consider this for sodium. Higher values of 20% and higher should be geared towards vitamins and minerals. These are the things our body needs to feel good.
Ingredients Over Labels
Understanding the labels can definitely help you when trying to balance your nutrition but it doesn't paint the clearest picture. There are a lot of questions that still can come up. Like where was the food sourced? And how long has it been packaged? I always read the ingredients first. If I cannot read each thing and comfortably know what it is, I put it down. This comes back to Real Food. Taking priority in quality of food.
This doesn't mean you will never eat a packaged product again. It is just to help you be more aware of what and how much you are putting into your bodies each day. Keep it simple. Read the ingredients and than the labels. Know what is in your food and be empowered that you are nourishing your body with quality and nutritionally dense food over processed products that hide themselves as "health foods"