Nowadays, going to the grocery store and walking down its numerous food aisles can be quite overwhelming. Even if you just want to buy a box of cereals, you must choose from a dozen of brands and flavours. There are just too many options out there for our own good! Nevertheless, learning how to effectively read food labels can be a great way to make sense of all these options and pick the healthiest ones!
Increased use of food labels has been linked to healthier dietary patterns (Kim, Nayga, & Capps, 2001) as well as improved nutrient intake (Neuhouser, Kristal, & Patterson, 1999; Ollberding, Wolf, & Contento, 2011). Therefore, it’s well worth taking a few extra seconds to read food labels when buying your groceries!
Below are the basic instructions on how to properly use food labels:
- Look at the serving size
- Look at the total amount of calories for that serving size
- Use the daily values (%) to find out if this food is high or low in a certain nutrient
- 15% or more is HIGH
- 5% or less is LOW
- Healthy foods are generally
- Low in Trans Fat (5% or less)
- Low in Sodium (5% or less)
- High in Fiber (15% or more)
- Low in Sugar (5% or less)
- High in Protein (3 grams or more)
- High in different vitamins (15% or more)
- High in different minerals (15% or more)
- If you want to compare 2 food products, make sure that the serving sizes are equal
- Food product #1: Nutritional values based on 50 grams
- Food product #2: Nutritional values based on 100 grams
- Divide the daily values (%) by 2 for food product #2
However, it’s extremely important to know what your health goals are when using food labels. For instance, if you want to lose weight, then pay close attention to the total amount of calories. On the other hand, if you want to build muscle, then make sure to look at the amounts of protein as well as vitamins and minerals. Just make sure that your health goals are clear to you so you can make the right decisions!
Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.
Kim, S.-Y., Nayga, J. R. M., & Capps, J. O. (2001). Food label use, self-selectivity, and diet quality. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 35, 346-363.
Neuhouser, M. L., Kristal, A. R., & Patterson, R. E. (1999). Use of food nutrition labels is associated with lower fat intake. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99, 45-53.
Ollberding, N. J., Wolf, R. L., & Contento, I. (2011). Food label use and its relation to dietary intake among US adults. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110, 1233-1237.