12 Aug 2021
A Quick Guide to Food and Nutrition Labels
12 Aug 2021
There are two different types of people when it comes to food labels. People who read them thoroughly and people who don’t know what they are or how to use them! Although being obsessive over reading food labels can be counter productive to your mental health, having an understanding of what they are can help. Knowing how to effectively utilize them can also have a dramatic effect on your health and the quality of nutrition you are receiving. In this blog we will explore what food labels are, how to read them properly and ways in which they can benefit your food choices. This is your ultimate guide to food labels!
So what are nutrition/food labels?
Food and nutrition labels are provided to help you to make informed choices about the food products you are buying and consuming. They will list the ingredients within the product. They also provide consumers with information on the food nutrient content including the amount of things like sugar, fat, sodium and fiber to name a few. This helps you to more easily compare and choose your products.
How can they help?
There are many ways in which food labels can be useful, here are a few:
- Reading the nutrients list is a good way of supporting your dietary needs. If you feel that you are not consuming enough dietary fibre or vitamin D, a good way to supplement it is by choosing foods that are rich in these nutrients.
- Reading food labels can help those that have health conditions like high cholesterol, celiac disease or food allergies or sensitivities.
- The more practice you get reading food labels, the better you can become in using them. They can be a great tool to planning a healthy and balanced diet.
Things to watch out for
Although food labels can be helpful, a lot of the time they can contain misleading information. That is why it is important to understand what to watch out for. One of the biggest tips is to always question the claims on the front of the packaging! You might find this odd. However, the front packaging of a product is meant to be flashy with the intent to sell.
Unfortunately a lot of companies try to lure you in to purchase the product by making health claims that are just not true. A prime example of this could be a common breakfast cereal, like raisin bran. The box may claim to be made with whole-grains, which can easily have someone believe it’s a healthy option. However, the product is still loaded with added sugars, making it not the best option for a lot of people. Just because a label makes certain claims, doesn’t guarantee that it’s a healthy choice.
Here are some claims that can be misleading
Natural- This does not necessarily mean that the product resembles anything natural. It simply indicates that at one point the company used a natural source like peanuts or wheat.
Organic – Although we would recommend sticking with organic food products if you can (to avoid harmful chemicals), this claim does not give you much information on whether or not the product is healthy. For example, Organic sugar is still sugar and Organic potato chips are still potato chips.
Vegan– This simply means that there was no animal products used to make the product. That in itself does not make a food or product healthy. For example, things like Oreo cookies and certain candies are considered vegan.
No sugar added– No added sugar can be a good thing. However, there are foods that are naturally high in sugar. Also, in a lot of cases, there has been artificial sugar substitutes added instead.
Another thing that can be misleading, are all of the different ways in which manufacturers can label sugar in their products. You may not realize, but there are a lot of different types of sugar. Most companies will take advantage of using multiple kinds in their products. In doing so, they can list healthier ingredients at the top of the list, mentioning all the sugar products closer to the bottom. This can help to mask the actual amount of sugar used in creating the product.
Here is a list to avoid accidentally consuming more sugar than you’d like (please note these are not complete lists and there are other out there):
Types of sugar: beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, caster sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar and evaporated cane juice
Types of syrup: carob syrup, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, malt syrup, oat syrup and rice syrup.
Other added sugars: barley malt, molasses, cane juice crystals, lactose, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, fruit juice concentrate.
*Note: Although some sugar types may be higher quality and less processed than others (for example, may be lower on the glycemic index), sugar is still sugar. If you are looking to avoid high amounts of it, its best to keep an eye out for all of these sources.
- The first product on the ingredient list, is the ingredient they used the most of. Try choosing items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients.
- It is important to note the serving size when reading the nutrition label. Oftentimes the serving size listed on the product is a lot smaller than what you would consider to be a serving size. (Example: a serving size may be ½ a chocolate bar, instead of the whole thing). So noting what the manufacturer considers a serving size is important to know exactly what you’re getting. For example: If you consume 2 servings your intake of all the nutrients listed below a nutrition label for 1 serving is doubled.
- When comparing products individuals tend to go for the less expensive product to be cost efficient, assuming that the products have similar nutritional value but at times the less expensive (or more expensive) product can have added sugars or preservatives that are not beneficial in maintaining a healthy diet.
- When looking at the labels of two similar products the product with less saturated fats, sodium and added sugars is most likely the more healthy choice.
- When looking at the nutrients of two similar products the product with more dietary fibre, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium is most likely to be the healthier choice.
Food and nutrition labels provide consumers with a lot of great information about products. They can assist you in making food and product choices that a suitable for your needs and health goals. However, it is important to understand how they work and how to best utilize them. We hope you found this quick guide to food labels helpful!
If you are looking for additional nutritional support, feel free to reach out to Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph. We have lots of practioners such as Naturopathic Doctors and Dietitians that can provide you with support!
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