Whether you're trying to stick to a doctor-ordered restrictive diet, wanting to lose weight, or just desire to be more health-conscious in your food choices, it's imperative that you start reading the labels on processed and packaged foods.
"It's no secret that some of the healthiest foods are whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, that come without packages or labels, but there are also plenty of healthy options in the other aisles at the grocery store," explains Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, manager of the St. Joseph Health Center for Health Promotion. "Remember not to be fooled by marketing on the front of the label. Just because a food states 'organic,' 'no added sugar,' 'gluten free' or 'all natural' does not mean it is good for you! All of these products can still contain a lot of natural sugar and fat. So you need to get savvy about reading the label to really find out what you are putting into your body."
Here's some information to help you understand food labels:
Percent daily values, next to the numerical measurement for each nutrient, are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. It's usually best to base your evaluations off of the actual gram or mg count, as those are standardized, and apply them to your individual calorie needs.
The last section on a nutrition label is the ingredients list, ordered from highest to lowest by volume.
"Stick to foods with ingredients you can pronounce," advises Watkins. "You want to fuel your body with whole foods, not complicated chemicals."
Also look for products with no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and less sugar. Beware that often other words are used for sugar such as corn syrup, cane juice, fruit juice, fructose, dextrose (often words that end in - ose). This can be very confusing so start with just focusing on the products you have at home and then make changes from there.
Little by little you will find healthier and better products and start to look and feel your best.
Call the St. Joseph Health Center for Health Promotion at (714) 618-9500 to learn more about working with a registered dietitian to help you meet your specific goals.