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Nutrition labels: confusing or informative?
Whether you are trying to lose weight, manage your sugar or sodium intake, or monitor a food allergy, understanding the Nutrition Facts labels on food items that you purchase is an extremely important component to staying in control of what you are consuming. Don’t know what to look for when looking at these often confusing Nutrition Facts labels? Here are a few simple tips on how to read and understand them.
Let’s use LaYogurt Blueberry Lowfat Yogurt as an example.
What do you look for in the product before you make a choice to purchase it? Is it the front label? Pictures? Total number of calories? Price?
It it very easy to be led to your decision by reading just the front of the package. Looking at this yogurt, your attention may be immediately drawn to the bright-colored picture of fresh juicy blueberries, and the marketing catch phrases: “Probiotic formula”, “Supports Immunity & Digestive Health”, “Lowfat”, ”Vitamins A & D added”.
Tip #1 – Look beyond catch phrases, such as “healthy”, “natural”, “lowfat”, etc.
These “healthy” benefits rarely give you the accurate information of what you are about to purchase. Pictures and marketing terms are designed to catch your eye, but do not reveal the complete list of ingredients, some of which may not be good for you at all.
Tip #2 – Read all of the Nutrition Facts
Few steps to understanding what you are reading:
- Categories such as calories, fat, carbohydrates, proteins, and other components are separated, and you will notice that by looking at the bolded words.
- Some categories may give you a breakdown.
Looking at this Nutrition Facts label, you can see that there are the following categories listed:
- Total Carbohydrate
Looking at Total Fat and Carbohydrate categories, you can see that there is a breakdown within those categories.
- The Total Fat is broken down by Sat. (Saturated) and Trans fat
- Carbohydrates are broken down by Dietary Fiber and Sugars.
Now that you know how to read your Nutrition Facts label, keep in mind that NOT ALL CALORIES ARE MADE EQUAL!
Tip #3 – Consider the source of your calories.
Let’s look at the Nutrition Facts of this yogurt a little closer.
- Calories from fat = 15
- Total fat = 1.5g
- Saturated fat = 1g
- Trans fat = 0
- Sodium = 90mg
- Sugar = 26 grams!!
Personally, as soon as I would see 26 grams of sugar listed in this 6oz yogurt, it would be making its way out of my hand right back on the shelf. But, to be absolutely sure that this yogurt does not contain healthful benefits that I look for in my food, I would look a little further.
Tip #3 – Be sure to read the ingredients!
It is more important to know what your calories are made of rather than how many of them there are per serving.
The rule of thumb in understanding the ingredients is that those that are contained in greater amount are listed first.
Let’s take a look at what is inside this yogurt:
- Cultured pasteurized Grade A Lowfat Milk
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
Good news: Milk is the first ingredient which makes perfect sense looking at the label on a yogurt.
Bad news: Sugar is listed before the blueberries!
This would be enough information for me to conclude that blueberries in this yogurt have very little influence on those 26 grams of sugar listed on Nutrition Facts label. But what is even worse, is that I see high fructose corn syrup listed among the first 4 ingredients, which is extremely harmful to your health for various reasons. (To learn more about why you should avoid HFCS, check out the article by Dr. Mark Hyman: “5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You” ( http://drhyman.com/blog/2011/05/13/5-reasons-high-fructose-corn-syrup-will-kill-you/)
So, after examining the Nutrition Facts and Ingredients, I would no longer care that this yogurt has only 160 calories and very little fat.
Remember, not all calories are made equal! Consider the source of your calories, not just the amount.
Now, let’s look at the Nutrition Facts listed for one medium-size avocado.
Are you shocked?
- Calories = 322
- Total fat = 29 grams
- Saturated fat = 4 grams
- Sodium – 14mg
Considering the amazing benefits of avocados, which do you think would be a better choice for your health:
1) one blueberry yogurt with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup; or
2) one avocado with total of 322 calories, 14mg of natural sodium and 29 grams of healthy fat in it?
The answer is undoubtedly AVOCADO.
Same goes for sugar. Always choose fresh fruits, vegetables, and berries for natural source of fructose.
One red apple might have significant amount of sugar in it, but it is a natural source of healthy sugar that your body processes very differently than it would artificial sweeteners which increase inflammation and cause variety of imbalances.
- Pay attention to the ingredients in your food items
- Limit fat that comes from animal protein sources (dairy, meat)
- Avoid added sugar and especially high fructose corn syrup
- Don’t focus on the number of calories. Focus on the source.
Katerina Egoul is a Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, who inspires and guides her clients towards achieving optimal wellness through motivational coaching.