How to read food labels – what to look for when shopping for food

Published on October 28, 2020 by Cori Grămescu


More than ever, consumers are interested in improving their health and food labeling has become more sophisticated than ever. In a previous article, we discussed the most misleading health claims found on processed foods, but now it is important to understand how to actually determine the healthiness of foods. Just follow this simple guideline and learn how to make the best choice for your health!

Make sure that the majority of your food choices comes from whole, unprocessed foods – vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, wild fish, free-range or even organic meat, eggs, dairy products and whole, unprocessed cereals. When you do buy processed, packaged foods, always read the small label on the back. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to evaluate certain foods.

Review the ingredient list

Ingredients are listed according to their quantity in the recipe, so always look carefully at the first 3-5 ingredients. Then take a look at the length of ingredient list. The more processed a food, the longer the ingredient list. If the first 3-5 ingredients contain ingredients that are problematic for your diet (sugar and alternatives, fats, flour, gluten) or they sound like a chemistry lesson, don t buy the product, regardless of the heath claim it has on its front label.

Check the serving size

Also, make sure you evaluate the nutritional quality of the product according to it. Most junk food products are listed with a ridiculously small serving size, that often leads consumers to over-indulge in calorie-rich, highly processed unhealthy foods simply because they seem harmless. For example, Pringles’ serving size is 25 grams, or 12 crisps, but most people with effortlessly snack on at least half a box of pringles, or 100 grams, which is in fact 4 times the quantity and calories of the listed serving size. The same goes with Nutella, with its serving size of 37 grams, or two tablespoons. However, the 2 tablespoons listed in the label are not overfilled with Nutella, like most people believe, and thus the confusion and excess calories, we may add.

Take note of energy intake

Food labels contain information about the energy intake of the product, expressed in kilocalories or kilojoules and information regarding protein, fat, carbohydrate and fiber intake.

After you choose a product that contains as little as possible artificial ingredients, the next step is to read and evaluate the food label.

Find out the amount of fat

If a product contains more than 17 grams of fat for 100 grams of product, it is high in fat. A product that contains less than 3 grams of fat for 100 grams of product, is a low-fat product. You should look for products containing 3-10 grams of fat for 100 g of product.

Saturated fat is high in products containing more than 5 grams of saturated fats for 100 grams of product, and low in those containing less than 1.5 grams of saturated fats, so you should choose products containing 1-3.5 grams of saturated fats for 100 grams.

Check the sugars

A product containing more than 22 grams of sugars is high in sugars, and if it contains less than 5 grams of sugar it has a low-sugar content. Choose products containing less than 12 grams of sugar if you are interested in losing weight, while maintaining a mild caloric deficit.

Avoid large amounts of salt

A product containing more than 1.5 grams of salt have a high-salt content, so choose foods that have less than 1 gram of salt for 100 grams of product.

When following a weight loss diet is important to choose foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and have at the same time low calories and high volumes, in order to promote satiety and digestive comfort.

Choose balanced, minimally processed food

When you choose to add in your diet packaged foods, evaluate the decision based on some important criteria – ingredient quality, nutrient profile and shelf life. Choose foods that have natural ingredients, with as little chemical additives as possible. The nutrients should be well balanced, with a moderate intake of sugars, fats and salt.

The shelf life should be reasonably short, and the rule of thumb is – should I cook this food, how long should it last? If your processed food has a seriously longer shelf life, don’t buy it, it most probably contains additives.

As long as most of your diet ingredients come from natural sources and you carefully read and evaluate food labels, you have a pretty good chance to significantly improve your dietary choices.

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