The best diet consists of whole foods prepared by you or for you. When purchased at a farmer’s market or the produce section in your grocery store, they generally don’t come with any labels or packaging.
When you purchase any food that has already been processed, it’s going to be packaged in some way. The packaging material provides preservation as well as convenient handling. But it also provides for something else—marketing.
We tend to eat with our eyes first. Not only when food is set before us ready to eat, but also when we read the packaging. That can be trouble because like any marketing, it includes emotionally charged words designed to get you to buy without considering the full nutritional story.
Words like “natural” and “healthy” aren’t regulated. And because we all tend to judge a book—or food—by its cover, great design tends to drive our purchasing rather than nutritional information.
For that reason, I encourage others to ignore all product packaging except two sections: the Nutrition Facts and the Ingredients.
Those sections are regulated and provide the information you most need to make your decisions.
There are a lot in these sections and I’m only going to hit a few of the high points for your consideration when reading.
This section provides statistical information you can use to make better choices in what you eat. I don’t pay much attention to the Percent Daily Values since my standards are higher than these government established standards.
- Serving Size. Take note of this first because all other information provided is based on this amount consumed. Then compare to the Servings Per Container. Your snack or drink may show 120 calories per serving but may contain 2.5 servings. If you eat the whole snack or drink, you’ll consume 360 calories!
Calories. If you monitor calories, this tells you how many in the serving size. It also lists Calories From Fat. I don’t like to eat packaged foods with more than 20% of the fats coming from fat.
Sodium. You really don’t want more than 1,500 milligrams a day. Try to eat less milligrams of sodium than calories.
Sugar. I don’t worry about natural sugars found in fruit but I am concerned about added refined sugars. 4 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of table sugar. It’s best to keep refined sugar intake to less than 24 grams per day. Most 12-ounce soft drinks are 40 grams or more. Same caution applies to foo-foo coffee drinks.
Saturated Fat. Avoid.
This section lists each ingredient in descending order of predominance. The fewer ingredients, the better. If you can’t pronounce it or you don’t know what it is, think twice about eating it.
- Know your sugars. I prefer to not have any added sugars listed in first five ingredients. And sugars come under many names: syrups, malt, molasses or anything ending with an -ol or -ose.
Grains. Make sure grains or flours listed include the word “whole”. If it doesn’t, it’s been refined and you’re not getting the full benefit. Even better, look on the packaging for the Whole Grain Stamp.
Again, ignore the packaging marketing. You can’t blame a company for wanting you to buy their product, but you can’t trust them to have the same nutritional goals as you.
Learn to read the Nutrition Facts and ingredients labels.
Choose what you eat and only eat what you choose.
Question: What is your pet peeve about misleading food package marketing? Share your answer in the comments below.