How to Use Food Labels to Guide Healthy Food Choices
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A healthy food is one that has the right amount of calories and nutrients to help you reach weight and health goals. If you are trying to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, healthy foods tend to be low in calories compared to their nutrient content, such as fiber, protein, or healthy fats. They also may be low in components such as saturated fat and sodium.
Checking food labels can help you select foods that fit right into your strategy to lose weight and improve health. The nutrition facts panel and list of ingredients can guide you. It can be simpler than you might think to take advantage of all this information.
Nutrition Facts Panel
There is a lot of information on the nutrition facts panel, but you do not need to look at it all at once. Start by checking the serving size, and you may already be on your way to losing weight if you discover that some of the portions you typically eat are bigger than the recommended serving size. Then you can check other nutrients.
- Serving size and servings per container. Did you think the serving size was a bowl of ice cream and not just a half-cup? Have you been eating the whole bag of chips at once, not realizing that there are 2 servings in the bag? Checking the nutrition facts panel can set you straight. Plus, you will need to know the serving size and servings per container to make sense of the other information on the panel, since the amounts of nutrients are give per single serving.
- Calories. While calorie counting is not the end all, be all of weight loss and nutrition, checking calorie content can help guide you towards lower-calorie foods, which can help with weight loss. The only way to lose weight is to keep the amount of calories you take in at a lower level than the amount of calories you burn.
- Nutrients to increase. After you are comfortable checking serving sizes and calories, you can choose one or two nutrients to increase. Dietary fiber can be a good target, since it can help with weight loss and blood sugar control, and it can guide you towards choosing more nutritious foods such as whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit. Protein and monounsaturated fat can also be worth watching.
- Factors to limit. Many factors in foods are associated with weight gain or health concerns. When you are ready, you can look for them on food labels and try to limit them. Examples include saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
The list of ingredients can be another useful tool when choosing healthier foods. It can clue you into information that the manufacturer may not have wanted to publicize. For example, you might discover that "Iced Oatmeal Cookies" have no oats in them or that cheddar-flavored singles have no cheese or milk in them.
The list goes from most abundant to least abundant ingredients, so ingredients near the beginning of the list are in higher quantities than ingredients listed near the end. This can tell you important information. For example, foods with sugar, corn syrup, or another type of added sugar listed first are certain to be low in nutrition and calorie-dense. You might also discover that:
- "Veggie crisps" may have rice or potato flour or starch listed first, with actual vegetable powder listed far down.
- "Multigrain" bread or products "made with whole grains" may have white flour or enriched flour as their main ingredient, with only minor amounts of whole grains.
Reading the list of ingredients can give one option the edge over the others when choosing between similar products. For example, cereals with the same amount of calories and sugar may have different grains as their main ingredient, with one brand including a whole grain first. Or, one brand of peanut butter may have sugar or hydrogenated oils, while another, healthier, brand might have only peanuts and peanut oil.
Nutrition Tracking App
Labels can be confusing and even stressful when you are using them to select healthier foods. Using a nutrition tracker can help relieve the burden by offering information and tips on selecting more nutritious foods. When you log your foods, you can see information such as:
- The calories and nutrients in the food.
- How your intake compares to your daily goals.
- Which foods may be contributing the most calories to your day.
You can also try logging foods ahead of time to see how they might affect your daily totals. If the planned food is not a good fit for that day's goals, you can swap it out ahead of time for a better choice.
Even with the best intentions, there will always be times when information on a food package is not enough, and a bit of extra guidance can help.
Eating healthier and losing weight are some of the most important steps you can take for your health, and nutrition tracking can help. Tracking your foods and beverages can hold you accountable with your good intentions and make sure you know exactly what you are eating and how much.
A good nutrition tracker can fit right into your lifestyle without weighing you down, and it is not hard to find one. Lark offers intuitive tracking features, such as recognizing favorite foods and keeping a history of your choices. Plus, Lark's nutrition coaching includes instant feedback to celebrate the good choices you made and guide you towards any possible improvements next time.
Lark's nutrition tracking is part of the entire coaching program for weight loss and improved health. The program may be available to you at no cost if your health insurer participates! Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark. You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.