Ever since the 12th of December, 2007, nutrition labeling has become mandatory for all pre-packaged foods. In other words, every single food company out there has to include it on its packaging.
But what exactly is food labeling, one might ask? It is, simply put, information which can be found on prepackaged foods’ labels. You’d do well for yourself to use this information since doing so can help you compare foods and make better choices.
This label information is of particular use if you plan your meals with carbohydrate counting.
The information in question includes:
- The ingredient list;
- The Nutrition Facts table;
- Some nutrition claims which are optional.
The Nutrition Facts table offers information on:
- % Daily Value (% DV) of nutrients;
- 13 core nutrients;
The information, which can always be found at the top of the Nutrition Facts table, bases itself on the quantity of food.
How to Use It?
Don’t worry; we’ll give you a step by step guide as to what is what on the table, making it a piece of cake to understand.
Start Off With Serving Size
It is the first step since all of the information which you will read further below is based on the listed serving size.
Which only makes sense since the bigger the serving, the more calories you consume (same goes with carbohydrates, etc.).
Amount per Serving
This information is found on the left side of the table and is useful for providing total amounts per serving of all the different nutrients. They are shown either in g(grams) or mg (milligrams). You can use this to compare labels of similar foods.
Further useful information is that the nutrients you should limit are found at the label’s top.
Ideally, you should choose foods with less trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Less calories go without saying.
It’d be better to choose foods with a higher fiber content, which is listed under total carbohydrates on the label.
We are sure we don’t need to inform you that, when trying to lose weight, the calorie count is of crucial importance. It’s the simple equation of losing more calories than you eat during your day. This is where learning to read the labels comes in handy.
That way you’d be aware of which products contain fewer calories. But take note: each individual’s calorie needs differ based on many factors such as body weight, gender, age, etc.
As its name clearly states, this includes every type of carbohydrate – be it fibers, sugars or complex carbohydrates. And because all types of carbohydrates can have an effect on your blood glucose, its vital to take the grams into consideration when counting carbs and not just the grams of sugar.
This should be a must when choosing which foods to include in your daily diet, in order to make sure you are eating healthy.
The reason is that, if you only count the sugar content, you could end up overeating foods which hold low or no sugar content but are still rather high in calories, such as grains (due to their high carbohydrate content).
Another mistake one can make is to exclude fruits and low-fat dairy (which are both very nutritious) simply because of their high sugar content.
Remember, these foods have natural sugars, and are also packed with important nutrients which give them the title of ‘healthy choices’.
Sad to say, however, that the grams of sugar on the label make no difference between added sugars and the natural kind, and this can be very misleading in a number of ways.
Fiber is the non-digested (or, in some cases, partially-digested) part of plant foods.
The dried variety such as pinto or kidney beans, as well as grains, vegetables, and fruits, are all excellent sources of fiber.
The daily recommendation is about 25 grams of fiber for women, and 38 grams for men.
However, the sad truth is that most Americans are only getting about half of their needed daily fiber intake. So take our advice and look for foods which have a higher fiber content on their label.
They also go by the name of ‘polyols’. Such sugars include mannitol, xylitol, and sorbitol. They hold a lower amount of calories than starches or regular sugars. Should the food in question contain these, then they too will be listed on the product’s label.
But you should note that just because a product contains these, it doesn’t have to mean it is low in calories or carbohydrates. After all, simply because a package says sugar-free, doesn’t make it carbohydrate or calorie-free either.
So, once again, other than checking the grams of sugar on the label, make sure to also check the calorie and carbohydrate grams.
The word ‘total’ says it all. It accounts all the fat that is in the food in question, be it trans fats, saturated fats or cholesterol. But this also includes fats which are beneficial to your health, such as polyunsaturated or mono fats.
They are good for you because they can keep your heart healthy and lower your blood cholesterol. And so, the bad kinds like the trans and saturated ones do the opposite: they can contribute to the danger of heart disease and raise your cholesterol levels.
And really, do we even need to mention that the cholesterol itself in food also raises your cholesterol?
There’s no complicated math here. Simply be sure to choose the foods with the lowest trans and saturated fat content. Ideally, it should be little saturated and no trans fat per serving.
You shouldn’t overdo it with the healthy fats either since too much is more than likely to increase your weight.
Even though sodium has no effect on your blood glucose levels, one still eats too much of it on a daily basis. More than they need. For one, table salt is quite high in sodium. In fact, some people consider them interchangeable.
Many foods already have a salty taste, with bacon and pickles being just two examples. But those are obvious examples, there is plenty of hidden salt in salad dressings, cheeses, canned soups, lunch meat etc.
This is why reading labels is so helpful. It can help you find hidden sources of sodium. It will also aid you in comparing the sodium content in different foods. An adult should ideally aim for 2300 mg of sodium per day or even less!
If you happen to have high blood pressure, then less is preferable.
They can also prove a helpful tool. It’s an easy system of listing ingredients by weight. This means that the largest ingredient takes up the 1st place in the order. You can check the ingredient list for things you might want to avoid.
For example, oils which are high in trans fats, such as hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oil.
Also best to stay away from tropical fats, such as palm or palm kernel, and coconut.
But it can also be used to check for healthy ingredients, such as canola, peanut and olive oils. Same goes with whole grains, like oats or whole wheat flour.
For example, if you wish to find high-whole grain bread, you should look for a product where whole wheat is first on the ingredients list.
PDV (Percent Daily Values)
They can be found in the right column of the label. They are used for informing you what percent of each nutrients the food provides. This, assuming you are on a 2000 calorie meal plan.
Still, it is best to pay attention to the total amounts per serving. It’ll make it easier to compare the labels as well as count the carbs and calories in each product.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed this term on some packages. Other similar claims to this are “digestible carbohydrate” or “impact carbohydrate”. This is due to the fact that quite a large number of food companies make claims about the carbohydrate amounts in the products.
But it should be noted that none of the three aforementioned terms are used by ADA (the American Diabetes Association). Nor have they been legally defined by the FDA.
The way the manufacturers get these numbers is by subtracting the fiber grams and sugar alcohol grams from the total carbohydrates. This is a cheap trick to make their food seem lower in carbs than it is in reality.
But in most of these cases, the calculation is far from accurate and this can have a bad impact on the estimation of how food affects blood glucose.
So be smart and always look for the total carbs on the label first and foremost. After all, by checking your blood glucose levels you can find out how a certain type of food or product affects you.
Extra: Here’s Some Label Language for You
- Sodium/salt-free: < 5 milligrams of sodium per serving;
- Low sodium: 140 mg of sodium or even < per serving;
- Very low sodium: 35 mg of sodium or even < per serving;
- Light in sodium: 50 % < than the average version;
- Reduced/less sodium: At least 25% < than the average version;
- Unsalted/no added salt: During processing, no salt has been added ( but this isn’t a sodium-free food).
- Low fat: 3 g or < per serving;
- Low in saturated fat: 2 g or < per serving and 15% or < calories from saturated fat;
- Reduced fat: At least 25% < fat than the average version;
- Light in fat: At least 25% < fat than the food to which it is compared;
- Fat-free: less than 0.5 g per serving.
Sources: Diabetes; Health Canada; American Diabetes Association; Diabetes Canada