Food labels have been a topic of discussion with my patients for many years.
When you are walking the grocery store aisles, you probably flip over a few items to read the nutrition labels, but do you understand what you’re looking at? While overall, people around are well education about the topic, please remember these helpful tips:
Nutrition information on the label is provided for one serving of a food or beverage. Many products contain more than one serving. Example: standard size bottle of ice-tea contains 2 servings (2 cups) but label gives you information for 1 serving (1 cup). Therefore, if you drink the whole bottle at your lunch, you must double the calories, fat, sugar, and other ingredients on the label. If you’ve eaten a smaller portion, then calculate accordingly.
Pay special attention to the amount of Sugars (listed under carbohydrates section of label) in one serving. This is especially important if you have diabetes (or other health concerns) that require you to monitor sugar intake or the glycemic index of foods. My rule of thumb is, if the amount of sugar higher than protein (listed write below the sugars), I try to skip it.
Check out the amount of fat, especially Trans fats in one serving. Those are especially known to contribute to “bad cholesterol,” which contributes to heart disease. Choose foods that have “Zero” Trans fats.
Be aware that “0” does not mean zero! It means less than 5% per serving!
Always look at the list of ingredients. It describes what is actually this product is made of and what else was added to it. If you cannot pronounce the words that are listed on a food label, it’s likely coming from chemicals and processed (unnatural) elements that are not healthy for the body. Some of the items you want to avoid include:
Preservatives including BHA, BHT, brominated products
GMO – genetically modified organisms, common in corn and soy derivatives
Hydrocarbons (pesticides PCB, DDE, DDT)
Soy, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated oils
Dyes (e.g., yellow dye no. 5, tartrazine, anything with numbers in it)
MSG – monosodium glutamate (common in canned foods and Asian cooking)
Food allergens – if you or family members have a known allergy to peanuts, wheat, soy, or gluten
If you are in a hurry and can’t take the time to read labels, be sure to avoid packaged (bag, box, or bottle) foods. Instead, buy fresh or frozen whole foods and “eat a rainbow everyday” (e.g., fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt). Also, choose beverages with no sugar added (check that spot on the label).
If in doubt, do not eat it and always feel free to call us for an additional information. In our practice we always start with food, because “we are what we eat”. Eat Healthy – Stay Healthy!
- David Katz, M.D. “Nutrition Detectives: Teaching Kids to Make Healthy Choices.” http://www.davidkatzmd.com/nutritiondetectives.aspx
- Pizzorno, J.E. Textbook of Natural Medicine. Fourth edition. St Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Publishing: 2014.
- United States Department of Agriculture. “Nutrition Facts Label.” Updated August 2006. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/sites/default/files/printablematerials/NutritionFactsLabel.pdf
- United States Food and Drug Administration. “How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label.” Updated November 2004. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm