How to Read Food Labels
There are three components of food labels to consider…
- The Nutrition Facts Table
- The Ingredient Label
- The Package (Content Claims)
When it comes to determining what is in your food – there really is only one place to find the sure answer… The ingredient label. Although the Nutrition Facts Table does reveal some great information – it (typically) doesn’t tell you the WHOLE story. And, the content claims on the package? Those can be taken with a grain of salt… (pun intended).
When looking at a food label, navigate to the ingredients label first. The ingredients label is organized in a way that allows you to understand relative amounts of each ingredient in your product. This brings me to Tip #1…
Tip #1: Navigate to the ingredients label.
The ingredients label is organized by percent weight of an ingredient. The ingredient that makes up MOST of the product (by weight) is listed first. The ingredient that makes up the LEAST of the product (by weight) is listed last. For example, if you see “sugar” listed in the first three ingredients – you know that sugar makes up a large portion of the food product. If you see “sugar’ listed near the end of the list – you know that sugar makes up a much smaller portion of the food product.
As stated before, the ingredient list tells you more about what is IN your product than the nutrition facts table. Notice that even if the ingredient label states “sugar”, the nutrition facts table may state “0g sugar”. Why? If a food product contains 0.4 grams or less of sugar per the indicated serving size, the manufacturer can round DOWN to 0.
Tip #2: If you’re looking for a truly sugar-free product, look at the ingredient list rather than the nutrition facts table.
When does the nutrition facts table become important? The nutrition facts table reveals the macronutrient and micronutrient composition of the food. This is important if you are specifically looking for a food product that is particularly high in protein, fat, or carbohydrate. For Phase 1 ratios, each meal will contain approximately the same GRAM amount of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Most people will fall somewhere between 20 grams to 40 grams of each nutrient (specific numbers will vary depending on individual caloric needs). Therefore, the nutrition facts table can tell you how many grams of protein, fat, or carbohydrates are in the food you are buying.
Tip #3: Look at the grams of macronutrients in your ingredients.
Take some time to look at the nutrition facts tables to see if your ingredients are high in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
You may be surprised by what you find (example: peanut butter is a HIGH protein source of FAT – not necessarily a great source of protein on its own. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contains 14 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein). Most people will need a secondary source of protein such as 5% Greek yogurt or full fat cottage cheese.
In addition to the macronutrients, the nutrition facts table will also reveal more information regarding specific vitamins and minerals. This may be important for those who follow a specific diet. For example, someone who needs to consume a low-sodium diet may be encouraged to look for products that are low in sodium (less than 5% daily value per serving).
Tip #4: Specific diet guidance.
If your doctor has advised you to follow a specific diet (ie: low cholesterol, low sodium, high iron, etc.), the nutrition facts table will be useful to guide your decisions.
Regardless of if you are looking at the ingredients, the macros, or the vitamins and minerals – it is always important to consider the serving size of your product. Some serving sizes may not correspond to the amount you typically consume. It’s important to compare the serving size to your normal size to determine the overall nutritional value of the serving you are consuming. For example, the Primal Kitchen mayo indicates 1 tbsp as a serving. If you typically consume 2 tbsp of mayo in your meals, then you would need to double all of the macros and micros to determine how much of each nutrient you are consuming.
Tip #5: Consider serving sizes.
Oftentimes, the serving size can go overlooked – and may cause you to unintentionally consume more of a macronutrient than intended. Look at the serving size of the foods you are consuming to get a clear understanding of the macros and micros you are consuming in each serving that you have.