Trying to find the healthiest foods when grocery shopping can be complicated. A general rule of thumb is to shop around the perimeter the grocery store. When reading nutrition labels, it is imperative that you understand the different categories. Here are some tips to think about next time you read a food label:
- This section will tell you the size of a single serving and the total number of servings per container (package). This is where companies can trick you. You might think a bottle of juice contains 150 calories, but if you look at the label, the bottle may contain two servings, so you’re really consuming 300 calories.
- Pay attention to the calories per serving and how many servings you’re really consuming if you eat the whole package. If you double the servings you eat, you double the calories and nutrients.
- Limit these nutrients.
- For total fats you need about 56 to 78 grams a day and 16 grams of saturated fats. Stay away from trans fats. A product may say “0 grams of trans fat,” but there still may be .5 grams or less grams. The only way to be sure is to read the ingredients. Steer clear of foods that say “hydrogenated oil.”
- Sodium aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of added sodium per day.
- Carbs: Look at this number in relation to the list of ingredients. If the number is high but the ingredients include whole wheat and whole grains, it still gets the green light. On the other hand, if you see ingredients such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and this number is high, I’d put that product back on the shelf.
- Dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day.
- Women need 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day so the higher this number the better.
- You want to stay away from anything over 5 grams of sugar. Check out the ingredients and if you see things like sugar, brown sugar, or corn syrup, limit these foods.
- The more protein the better. This will help you to stay full longer. Depending on your activity level, a woman needs between 40 and 60 grams of protein a day.
- Some labels list the percentage of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, etc. Aim to get 100 percent of these nutrients.
- The % Daily Value (DV) tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. As a guide, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV — 5 percent or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), seek foods with a higher % DV — 20 percent or more.
- INGREDIENTS: This is one of the most important aspects of the label. Look for real food ingredients (you can pronounce), and avoid enriched flour, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, and refined sugars.