Crack­ing the Code: Nu­tri­tion La­bels

Un­der­stand­ing these 8 key val­ues will change the way you shop.

Muscle & Performance - - Contents - By Jill Schild­house

Ever no­tice that one per­son at the gro­cery store who’s in­tently read­ing the back of each can, box and pack­age be­fore de­cid­ing whether to place it in the cart or shove it back on the shelf with a hint of re­pul­sion? That, my friends, is some­one who has un­locked one of the great mys­ter­ies of life: how to de­ci­pher a nu­tri­tion la­bel.

“Food la­bels are hard to un­der­stand be­cause there is a lot of in­for­ma­tion on them,” says Jen­nifer Christ­man, RDN, LDN, clin­i­cal nu­tri­tion di­rec­tor at Med­i­fast. “How­ever, the la­bel only gives the in­for­ma­tion, but does not tell the con­sumer how to in­ter­pret it. The in­for­ma­tion is there, but if you don’t know what you are look­ing at, it’s worth­less.”

Fear not — we’ve got your crash course in nu­tri­tion la­bels 101 right here. Sure, your next food shop­ping out­ing might take a bit longer than usual, but soon it will be­come sec­ond na­ture.

Serv­ing size. ϐ ex­am­ine when com­par­ing two items. Is this a serv­ing size you would typ­i­cally con­sume? If the serv­ing sizes are the same on the two dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, next you can com­pare nu­tri­ents. Are calo­ries lower in one ver­sus the other? “If you are com­par­ing spaghetti sauce, for in­stance, I would look at sugar and sodium con­tent and choose the lower of the two,” says Christ­man. “If you are look­ing at cook­ies, I may choose the lower calo­rie and fat cook­ies for the same serv­ing size. And if you are com­par­ing two yo­gurts, you may want to choose yo­gurt with less added sugar, but higher in cal­cium.”

Daily Value. Be­ware of the tricky DV num­bers — they rep­re­sent the per­cent­age for var­i­ous nu­tri­ents in a serv­ing of the food, based on a 2,000-calo­ries-a-day diet. Since in­di­vid­u­als re­quire dif­fer­ent calo­rie lev­els, Daily Value per­cent­ages may be hard to in­ter­pret if one prod­uct has a vastly higher or lower calo­rie count per serv­ing. You’ll need to do some math to ϐ your usual or de­sired caloric in­take.

Low-fat or re­duced fat. These words, while great mar­ket­ing gim­micks on foods like cook­ies and peanut but­ter, should im­me­di­ately raise ϐ ȋ you can dou­ble your con­sump­tion). “These food items may be lower in fat; how­ever, they end up be­ing higher in added sugar,” says Christ­man. “The new food la­bels set to launch in 2018 will help to ad­dress some of this con­fu­sion by chang­ing serv­ing sizes and ad­dress­ing added sug­ars.”

To­tal fat grams. While it’s im­por­tant to look at to­tal fat grams, Christ­man is less con­cerned about heart-healthy mono- and poly-un­sat­u­rated fats, than sat­u­rated fats, which can raise LDL ȋ ȍ Ǥ

Sugar. Beyond the nu­tri­tion la­bel, take a closer look at the listed in­gre­di­ents to avoid high amounts of added sugar. Typ­i­cally foods that end in “ose,” like fruc­tose, dex­trose, mal­tose and su­crose, are syn­onyms and con­trib­ute to added sugar.

Salt. Avoid ex­cess sodium added to foods. Hid­den sources of sodium in­clude bak­ing soda, bak­ing pow ǡ ȋ Ȍǡ dis­odium phos­phate or salt. If you’re fo­cus­ing on lim­it­ing sodium in your daily in­take, look for foods with a daily value of 5 per­cent or less per serv­ing. Higher sodium foods will be 20 per­cent or more.

Car­bo­hy­drates. This in­cludes all sug ϐ ǡ Ǧϐ Ǥ - ple, when pur­chas­ing bread, look for bread made from whole grains with 3 ϐ Ǥ

Po­si­tion­ing mat­ters. When look­ing at in­gre­di­ent lists, items ap­pear­ing ϐ * Ǥ ǡ when eat­ing whole foods, this isn’t as much of an is­sue. But, when con­sum­ing more pro­cessed or pack­aged foods take a closer look at the in­gre­di­ent list.

ϐ ǡ sugar or sources of sodium listed ϐ Ǥ

Learn how to de­ci­pher food la­bels to make health­ier choices.

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