5 tips for reading nutrition labels

You’ve prepared a list of foods for a healthy week of meals and snacks, but as you head into the grocery store, the choices seem overwhelming. You throw some gluten-free crackers, sugar-free coffee creamer and reduced-fat peanut butter into your cart and head to the checkout. 

While most of your snack choices appear to be healthy at first glance, you may have neglected to read the nutrition labels to understand the ingredients that make up those items. Health claims may have persuaded you to purchase food that isn’t as healthy as it seems. Some foods promoted as natural or healthy may actually contain artificial ingredients or added sugars. In fact, a study found that 74% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets contain added sugar. 

Here are five things to look for on nutrition labels when trying to make healthier choices at the grocery store: 

1. Look beyond package claims

Sugar free, fat free, gluten free and natural claims don’t guarantee your food item is healthy. Front labels are often designed to lure you into purchasing products, so turn the package around to the nutrition facts panel to uncover the ingredients. 

2. Check the serving size

When you turn over your food item, the calorie count may seem low at first glance. Make sure to look at the serving size to control your portions. The serving sizes are many times a lot smaller than what you may consume in one sitting. 

3. Know the many names of sugar

There are over 50 different names for sugar on food labels. Common names include cane sugar, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose, lactose, among others. If these are at the top of the ingredient list, or if several kinds are listed throughout, the product is likely high in added sugar.

4. Be an ingredient inspector

The ingredients are listed in order from the largest to smallest amount in the product. Make sure you read all of the ingredients as artificial sweeteners, like sucralose and aspartame, may be at the end of the list. Try choosing items that have whole foods listed as the first few ingredients. The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely the food is highly processed.  

5. Don’t pass the salt

Sodium content is often overlooked, but high amounts may lead to bloating, weight gain, high blood pressure and other negative health effects. The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, which is less than ¾ teaspoon. 

It’s important to pay attention to what you eat. While processed foods are convenient and tasty, some may have a negative impact on your health. Think of your food as medicine that helps fuel your body and provide for a better overall well-being.

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