Want to know how to read food labels and not get duped?
Many companies use misleading marketing tricks to get health-conscious consumers to buy their products. Especially a product that is unhealthy or highly processed.
The fact is: just about all the foods you buy at your local store are classified as “processed” to a certain degree.
Food starts to deteriorate and lose its nutritional value after it gets harvested.
So, for a product to hold out longer, it undergoes some level of food processing.
To understand how to read food labels, you should pore over every little detail and find a product that can accommodate your needs.
Unfortunately, many healthy food labels don’t tell the whole truth.
In this article, we can show you exactly how to read labels on food and get it right every single time.
How to Read Food Labels Like a Pro
According to a 2019 survey, most people are looking for healthy options when shopping for food.
Experts analyzed 1,017 Americans between the ages of 18 and 80. For 1 in 10 consumers (11%), finding healthy food options when shopping proved difficult. Around 48% frequently checked the icons on the front of the package.
Consumers prefer to buy products with a “Heart-Check” symbol, “Whole Grain” stamp, “Great For You” symbol, and “Facts Up Front” label.
To be truly healthy, you need to know how to read food labels. For that, you should ignore the front of the box and go straight to the ingredient list.
Here, you can learn how to spot the “hidden ingredients,” like sugar, that go by different confusing names.
Don’t Let the Front Lure You In
Front labels are designed to look good. They are often convincing, luring, and in many cases – false.
Consumers often get tricked by marketing pitches like “light” or “low-fat food” that don’t tell the whole story. While in reality, these products may be packed with sugar, fat, calories, and salt.
To know how to read the nutrition labels on food, you should always turn the product around and look at the back.
On that note, the FDA plans to redefine the “healthy” symbol that the food industry can use to label products.
Based on these guidelines, the products that bear the “healthy” symbol will have to contain real food and be low in sugar, salt, and fat.
This plan is powerful enough to exclude many grocery store products from self-identifying as “healthy,” which can also help customers make easier decisions when buying food for a healthy diet.
Scan the Ingredient List
There are thousands of ingredients used to make foods. The FDA has a list of more than 3,000 ingredients in its database. Some of the most commonly used ones are salt, sugar, colors, spices, and baking soda.
To figure out how to read the ingredients on food labels, start with the first 3 ingredients. Manufacturers list the ingredients by quantity, meaning that the ingredient with the highest amount comes first. The ingredient that is used less will be at the bottom of the list.
- A product is unhealthy if it has sugar listed first, including hydrogenated oils and refined grains. If the list contains 2 to 3 lines worth of ingredients, then this is a highly-processed product.
- A product is healthy when the first 3 ingredients are whole foods.
When picking products with healthy food labels, you should limit the intake of sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol per serving.
By carefully reading the label, you can see the exact amount of calories, added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat content.
If you are on a healthy diet, you should select food that can benefit your overall health. For example, people get 100% fruit juice and not a regular juice drink. Many fruit juices don’t contain the same phytonutrients and fiber that raw fruits have. Plus, they have added sugar.
Food like whole grains is an excellent choice. Whole grains provide minerals, vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients. They are a healthier choice for those who want to keep their blood sugar, weight, and dietary cholesterol under control.
To learn how to read food labels, you should calculate accordingly.
You will see that most packaged goods show the nutrients of the food item in a single serving. But, these serving sizes are much smaller compared to what an average person eats.
For example, one serving can mean ½ a pack of biscuits or ½ a chocolate bar. This is a simple way of tricking consumers into thinking they are staying within the calorie limit.
So, when you are buying a certain food item, calculate the calories based on the amount you eat.
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Recognize Misleading Food Labels
Another important tip for figuring out how to read food labels for healthy eating is to recognize misleading food labels. Here is what the label says versus what it actually means.
The term sugar-free suggests that the product wouldn’t contain any sugar. However, the product can have up to 0.5 g of sugar in one serving size. To make up for the texture and flavor lost from the lack of sugar, manufacturers use more fat.
Dietary fat doesn’t have an immediate effect on blood sugar. But, if you are eating meals high in fat, they can hinder digestion and affect insulin production. So, watch your fat intake if you are buying sugar-free products.
Know the Different Names for Sugar
Remember, just because you don’t see “sugar” on the label, it doesn’t mean it is not there.
More than 68% of barcoded food products available in the United States have added sweeteners – even if they have a “healthy” or “natural” label.
To learn how to read sugar content on food labels, you should get familiar with the different names used for sugar. These are the secret or “hidden” sugar names that manufacturers try to hide.
Common names for simple or basic sugars include:
Eating pastries or other foods packed with sugar can cause blood sugar to spike. This can pose a problem for people on a diabetes diet. Check out the ingredient sugar label to make sure you are making the right purchase.
When a food label uses the term “light,” it means that the food has 1/3 fewer calories, 50% less salt, or 50% less fat than a comparable product.
For example, if you are buying “light” bread, it doesn’t mean it will abide by your particular standards. It simply means that it is healthier than the average bread.
Low-calorie labels on food can be misleading. Packaged foods and drinks with low-calorie claims often have a ton of added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.
If you need to focus on your calorie-per-day consumption, you should pick products that have a good nutritional profile.
For a diabetes diet, we suggest you go for filling, low-calorie foods like oats, yogurt, eggs, and berries, instead of drinking sweet diet drinks.
This way, you can get the right amount of calories per day and eat nutritious products that are good for overall health.
A low-fat label means that the amount of fat has been reduced. But, for the product to have the right flavor, texture, and consistency, manufacturers often add more sugar.
Check the amount of total fat and sugar before buying. Consult with a specialist or registered health practitioner if you have trouble picking the best food to eat for a diabetes diet.
The “natural” or “all-natural” label means that nothing synthetic or artificial is added or included in a food that wouldn’t normally be in that food.
But, it doesn’t talk about production methods, like food processing, the use of pesticides, thermal technologies, etc.
So, don’t expect the product to look like anything natural. It just means that at a certain point, the company used a natural source like pears or oranges to create the finished piece.
Many people who don’t know how to read nutrition labels on food often mistake fruit-flavoring for natural flavors.
Even if the product is manufactured to taste like fruit, it doesn’t have to contain fruit – only chemicals that give it flavor.
Other than the fat and sugar listed, you should pay attention to the type of grain the product contains.
Multigrain might sound healthy. But, in reality, it means that the product you get has multiple types of grain.
The odds of it having refined grains are very high. So, you may want to limit the multigrain products unless you get food marked as whole grain.
Many consumers feel overwhelmed when they don’t know how to read the ingredients on food labels. They have a hard time deciphering the stamps and symbols.
To avoid being tricked, you should minimize the intake of processed foods. The goal is to eat whole foods instead.
If you want to buy food from a grocery store, reading food labels can help. Sort through your options and pick high-quality products that don’t have a long ingredient list.
Calculate the calories, fat, and sugar content not based on the one serving listed on the label – but according to the actual amount of food you eat.
Minimize the sodium food and sugar intake and give your body all the nutrients, vitamin, and minerals it needs.