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How To Read Food Labels

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

When making informed decisions about your diet, reading food labels is an essential skill. With so many options on grocery store shelves, it can be overwhelming to know which products are truly healthy and which ones are full of unhealthy ingredients. Just know that the packaging can be deceiving, and they can write "healthy" on the box without having health benefits for consumers. But with some knowledge and practice, you can learn how to read food labels like a pro and make better choices for your health. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Start with the Serving Size

The serving size is the first piece of information you'll see on a food label, and it's important to pay attention to this because all the other information on the label is based on that serving size. For example, if the serving size is 1 cup and you eat 2 cups, you'll need to double all the numbers on the label to get an accurate picture of what you're consuming. What most people don't realize is that cup measurements aren't all that accurate, either. Next to that amount, there is usually a gram or ounce amount (i.e. (28g)) that can help you be way more accurate when tracking foods.

2. Look at the Calories

Calories are a measure of how much energy a food contains, and it's important to be aware of how many calories you're consuming so you can balance your diet accordingly. Keep in mind that the number of calories you need depends on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level.

3. Check the Macronutrients

The macronutrients listed on a food label are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It's important to pay attention to these because they have a big impact on your health. Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of energy, so it's important to get enough of them. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and it's important for muscle growth and maintenance. Fat is important for hormone production and helps your body absorb certain vitamins. The amounts of each macronutrient you need depend on your individual needs and what your goals are.

4. Look at the Ingredients

The ingredients list is where you'll find out exactly what's in the food you're considering. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so the first ingredient is the most prevalent, and the last ingredient is the least prevalent. Ideally, you want to see whole, recognizable foods on the list, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid foods with long lists of artificial ingredients, preservatives, and added sugars.

5. Pay attention to the Percent Daily Value (%DV)

The %DV is a guide to the nutrients in one serving of food in relation to the total daily amount you need. It's based on a 2,000-calorie diet, so if you're eating more or less than that, you'll need to adjust the numbers accordingly. Aim to choose foods that are high in nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in nutrients like saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.

Everyone should feel confident in reading food labels. It's a skill that can help you make healthier choices for your diet. By paying attention to the serving size, calories, macronutrients, ingredients, and %DV, you can make informed decisions about the foods you eat and improve your overall health and well-being.

-Coach Andi

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