While you may be preparing your home for a spring cleaning attack, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is gearing up to help your spring clean your diet. The month of March is National Nutrition Month, and it is was designed to help educate Americans about nutritional habits and choices that significantly impact a person’s health. Though consumers are moving toward more health-conscious options and more active lifestyles, not everyone is excited about the possibility of developing a healthy population. The food manufacturers, who bring in a hefty profit from the vast options of unhealthy processed foods and sugary snacks, sometimes resort misleading tactics in order to keep consumer purchases high. Though the regulations in place for food labeling are designed to protect consumers, these regulations are complex and make it difficult for consumers to know what they are reading.
The Necessity of Food Labels
By reading the nutritional labels on foods, you can make a more informed choice about the product you are buying. The body has specific dietary needs, with regard to categories like protein, dairy, vitamins, and minerals, and food labels allow you to isolate your choices to foods that are high in the content of your body. The labels also make it easier to compare different food products for their healthy or unhealthy components, helping you limit the consumption of sugar, fat, or cholesterol in your daily diet. It is tricky to read the details of a label and understand just how all that information applies to your diet and lifestyle.
Important Tips to Remember
1. Ignore the front of the package. One of the best pieces of advice you could get about reading labels is ignoring the health claims and flashy messages that make promises about transformative effects. People shop with their eyes and their emotions, so a savvy marketing plan will attack consumers where they are most vulnerable. Researchers have conducted studies over the consumer perception of a product’s health claims, and a package bearing a front label listing health benefits or claims directly impacts a consumer’s choice to purchase. Because of this influence, manufacturers are deceptive with their labeling, using health claims that are outright lies or simply misleading. Some of these deceptions occur with cereal, as children’s cereals are labeled as whole grain and fortified with vitamins and minerals. However, the sugar content in these cereals makes them a poor choice for a healthy breakfast. Front labels can be misleading, designed to lure you into simply buying a product, healthy or not.
2. Look at the order of ingredients. The ingredients on the product listing are ordered from highest amount to lowest. The first ingredient reveals what the manufacturer has used the most of. Beyond that, look at the first three ingredients in the list, as it makes up the biggest part of what you are eating. It doesn’t take a lot of investigation to see whether or not a product will be healthy. If any of the first ingredients include a type of sugar, and refined grains, or hydrogenated oil, there are healthier options elsewhere. A better option is to find a product where whole foods are included in the first three ingredients. Another easy way of identifying unhealthy products is by looking at a lengthy list of ingredients. If the product list is two or three lines long and full of names that are unrecognizable or hard to pronounce, there is a good chance that the food is highly processed and most likely, unhealthy.
3. Pay attention to serving sizes. Though a nutritional label gives you the approximate calorie count for a product and percentage of a nutrient, these are listed according to suggested portion size for a single serving. People are often mistaken about what single serving size might be. For instance, the calorie count on a can of soda might seem small, but often the recommended serving size if for half a can. Unless you pay close attention to the recommended portion, you can easily get duped into thinking a food has fewer calories or reduced sugar content. For diets that have strict portion control, like the HCG diet, reading a label can be the key to sticking with the protocol and achieving desired weight loss. The serving size scheme can trap a lot of people into believing that they have the portion size under control when in reality, they are grossly mistaking their consumption.
Taking charge of your health means educating yourself about food choices and the products on the market that either support or detract from your weight and health goals. By knowing how to read labels, you are empowered to make changes in your diet and promote a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle.
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