In my past, I was a Leader for Weight Watchers. The one area that was always a challenge for the members were food labels and the marketing of the packages. If you are trying to lose weight and get healthy, usually labels are where people put some effort into watching. It can be difficult and be challenging for those who never had to look at them before. So I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way.
Where to Begin
- Start with what constitutes a serving size. So many times it’s not the entire package. This is important when looking at two comparative items. The calories in one may be a larger portion for the same calories in another.
- Speaking of Calories, this is an area most look at first. Just remember these calories are based on the serving size. So again, make sure of how much the serving size if first. It also shows how much fat provides the calorie content. The rule of thumb as reported by the FDA is 40 calories is low, 100 calories are considered moderate, and 400 calories or more is high when looking at the calorie amount provided by fat.
- Total Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium is another area few look at, but all should. These are considered areas of avoidance or at least make sure to limit them. Keep them as low as possible when choosing a processed or packaged food item.
- Dietary Fiber, Vitamin, and Minerals is an area on the label most people don’t pay much attention. However, it’s a great area because you can learn to look for higher content in these areas to increase your intake of these nutrients.
- The Footnote is your Daily Values and is the Upper (or “At Most”) limits you should have of fat, sodium, carbohydrates and cholesterol and a Lower (have “At Least”) limit you should have of dietary fiber. These (as seen on the label) are shown on a 2,000 calorie/day diet and 2,500 calorie/day diet.
How to Read Food Labels
There are other areas we need to have a basic understanding of labels as well. These are many, but the basics you should know are as follows:
- When a label says that a nutrient is reduced (as in reduced fat or reduced sodium), it means that the food is at least 25 percent lower in that nutrient than the regular product.
- If food is said to be an excellent source of, or contains or provides, a nutrient, it contains from 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for that nutrient.
- If a portion of food is said to be high or rich in or an excellent source of a nutrient, the food contains 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for that nutrient.
Here are the definitions of some other terms commonly found on food labels:
1 Calorie free: Contains fewer than 5 calories per serving.
2 Low calorie: Contains 40 calories or fewer per serving.
3 Sugar-free: Contains no sugar.
4 Low sugar: Contains less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving.
5 Cholesterol free: Contains less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
6 Cholesterol-free food: The food item has never included cholesterol — before or after processing.
7 Fat-free: Contains less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving.
8 Saturated fat-free: Contains less than 0.5 gram of saturated fat, and no more than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving.
9 High Fiber: Contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
10 Good source of fiber: Contains 2.5–4.9 grams of fiber per serving.
11 Sodium free: Contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
12 Very low sodium: Contains 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
13 Low sodium: Contains 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
Reading labels can at times be confusing. Labels have specific meanings and can often have a language of its own. It may be somewhat new for us to read labels, so the above is a good beginning to understanding them. When we are looking for ways to cut back on harmful ingredients for our family or beginning a weight loss journey, this can be a step in the right direction.