The Top 5 Tips for Reading Food Labels

by Amanda Ursell

  1. Always check the number of servings in a pack. Calories, fat and other nutrients are given per serving. You need to know how many servings there are in the product to gauge how many calories, for example, you are getting in total. An individually wrapped muffin may have 100 calories per serving, which sounds "good." On closer inspection, the muffin could be supplying four servings. So, if you eat the whole thing, you are eating 400 calories in total.
  2. Don't rely on nutrition claims like "low fat" to tell you the whole story about the product. Look at the whole picture by checking the nutrition facts box and ingredients list. A "low fat" cookie can still be high in sugar and have plenty of calories.
  3. Be aware that labels are like mini advertisements for the food or drink. While they have to be legal and honest, they are there to persuade you to buy them and can be confusing. If you are in any doubt whether a product is good for you, leave it on the shelf.
  4. Don't be swayed by terms like "naturally better" or "nature's way." Take a step back, because they don't really mean anything. Concentrate on the facts (which appear in the nutrition fact panel) rather than woolly, meaningless hype.
  5. Try not to be influenced by cozy pictures, bright colors and funky names on labels. They can really press your emotional buttons and end up in your cart because they look good, not because they are good.

Amanda Ursell is the author of What Are You Really Eating?: How to Become Label Savvy (Hay House, 2005)

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