If you think food labels and packaging are confusing, you are not alone. Many Americans have questions about what terms like “fortified” or “natural” mean and how to make sense of the nutritional information on the back of packaging. We’re here to help! Here’s the “skinny” on food labels…
The nutrition facts label (hint, it’s on the back of food packaging)
Begin by looking at the serving size. Surprised? Many people don’t realize that what’s in a package may be much more than one serving. One pack of Twinkies, for example, is two servings. A serving of Pringles is just 16 chips.
Pay attention to the type of fat on food labels. When focusing on fat, avoid foods with these ingredients on the label: hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, and trans fats. Trans fats are particularly heart-unhealthy, and even foods claiming to have “no trans fats” can contain .5 grams of trans fat per serving.
And don’t forget to look at the amount of added sugar. American Heart Association guidelines recommend no more than 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of added sugar a day for women and 38 grams (around 9 teaspoons) for men. Sugar can also hide in the list of ingredients, given the various forms in which it comes, so look for any of the following ingredients: agave, cane sugar, carob sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, or maltodextrin.
Often the front of food packaging can be just as confusing. Here are some of the most common misleading marketing statements:
· “Natural” can mean something different to every manufacturer because the description “natural” is not regulated by the FDA. “Natural” does not equal healthy.
· Whole grains are healthier than more processed white breads or pastas, but unless they are labeled “100% whole grain,” it’s impossible to know how much of the good stuff is actually in what you’re buying.
· Foods labeled as “low-fat” are often high in sugar, so be sure to check the sugar content on the label.
- Foods described as “Made with…” may only contain a small amount of what is being advertised as healthy. Investigate and find out the amount of organic ingredients, real fruit, or whole grains actually in the item. Reading the food label on the back can help you decide whether the ingredients in the item are healthy.