Making Sense of Food Labels
By Rita Oliveira
May 19, 2006

The Nutrition Information found on food labels is useless unless you know what it all means. At first glance many products look healthy because of suggestions such as; low fat, fat-free, sugar free and low sodium. As consumers, we must look at the label a little further before we decide whether the product is a healthy. There are two main features to look at on a label; ingredients and nutritional information.

The ingredients inform you of what is in the product. The ingredients are listed in order of the quantity in the product. The item contains more of the items listed first than those listed last. It is best to avoid products where less nutritious food items such as sugar are listed as one of the first ingredients. This includes; glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, lactose and maltose.

An item to beware of in the ingredients is hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenation is the process of taking a healthy fat like olive oil and making it solid (TRANS Fat). Trans fast can increase blood cholesterol levels and are not recognized by the body as an energy source so will likely be stored as fat by the body. Many items that appear healthy are loaded with hydrogenated fats. Watch out for hydrogenated oils in snack foods, margarine, shortening and peanut butter.

When reading labels on grain products look at the type of flour listed. It's best to choose products containing whole wheat flour. Avoid bread and bread products that list wheat flour, white flour, enriched wheat flour, enriched white flour, unbleached white flour etc. These are all refined white flour. The majority of so-called healthy snacks are full of refined carbohydrates.

The Nutrition Information gives you detailed nutrition information per serving. It specifies the total calories in a product and the number of grams of protein, fat and carbohydrate in each serving.

Fat grams will often be broken down into Polyunsaturates, Monounsaturates, Saturates, Trans fat and Cholesterol. Choose foods that have little or no Saturated fat, Trans fat or Cholesterol. Carbohydrate grams in a product may be broken down into sugars, starch and dietary fibre.

Choose products that contain more carbohydrate from starch and fibre than from sugar. Foods that are high in fibre usually show the number on grams in one suggested serving. If fibre is not indicated on the label it is quite possible there isn't much of it. Look for at least 2 grams per serving in grain products.

Label reading will eventually be easy and you will make healthy choices without thinking. Remember that moderation is key! Don't deprive yourself completely of the things you love most, but make healthier food choices more often.

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