We’ll help you figure out how food labels can help you make better eating choices!

When I made a goal to eat healthier, I was overwhelmed with all the different food products. I would stand in front of shelves of food at the grocery store for hours, fretting over which options were best for me. Then I went to school and became a nutritionist. This career path opened up a whole new world to me full of vitamins and fats, minerals and calories. Plus, it ultimately helped me crack the code on reading food labels. Ever since then, buying the right groceries has become much easier. So as my first official act as an iFit nutritionist, I’ll share my wisdom with you!

Check the serving size

Next time you pick up a packaged food product, check out the serving size and the amount of calories per serving. Some products appear to be a single serving item. On closer inspection, you’ll discover that they actually contain two or three servings. So if you eat the whole thing, you’ll have to multiply the percent daily values (including the calories)!

Use the 5:20 rule

The five to twenty rule is a quick-and-easy guideline to determine if a food product is high or low in nutrients. To do this, look at the percent daily values on your food label…it’s the percentage you’ll find next to the nutrients. Percent Daily Values are percentages for nutrients, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, giving you a guide for you to meet your nutrient needs. For a product to be considered a good source of good nutrients (like fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron), it should contain at least 20% per serving. For a product to be considered a low source of a not-so-good nutrient (such as saturated fats, trans-fats, and sodium), it should be 5% or less.

Carbs to fiber

Another quick rule is the carbohydrate to fiber ratio. Ideally, this ratio should be about 10:1. For example, if there are 30 grams of carbohydrates, there should be at least 3 grams of fiber.

Check out the ingredient list

Don’t forget to compare ingredient lists, too. They’re listed from highest to lowest content. So if the label has sugar listed as the very first ingredient, then the product probably has lots of sugar. Keep in mind that food companies try to hide how much sugar are in their products by listing them under different names. Anything ending in -ose is a sugar.  Some common secret names are fructose, sucrose, dextrose, and maltose. They also use honey, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup, so sugar doesn’t make the top of the list.

Typically, the fewer ingredients there are, the better. That’s usually a sign that the food product hasn’t been processed very much. Watch out for long ingredient lists, particularly when many items are unrecognizable. It’s better for you and your waistline if you know exactly what you’re consuming.

Happy, healthy shopping!

Michelle Alley
iFIt Nutritionist