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Learn to Read the Food Label

By Lukas Hambsch

Posted in Food Label, Nutrition

Everyone reads the food label. The problem is most people only read the front. Reading the back of the food label is the first step to a more nutritious diet. Nutrition Facts gives you tons of valuable information that you can use to shape your diet.

Lets use Jif Creamy Peanut Butter as an example. It should be simple to make. Grind up some peanuts, right?

Ingredients

People tend to overlook the ingredients section of the nutrition label, but it's the most important part. The sources of your calories and nutrients plays a huge role in your overall health and fitness. Even if you eat a healthy amount of calories and nutrients, your health will suffer if they're coming from the wrong sources. Once you start looking at the ingredients in the food you buy, you'll realize how many strange ingredients you're putting in your body.

This peanut butter has 8 ingredients. The FDA requires food manufacturers to list ingredients in order of the amount used, from most to least. So, they list the most used ingredient first and the least used ingredient last. Sugar is the second most used ingredient in Jif Creamy Peanut Butter. As you start looking at the ingredients label, you'll notice a lot of different foods include sugar high on their ingredients list.

Another ingredient that's on that list is Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils. If you've even seen how the oil separates in natural peanut butter, you may wonder why Jif would need to add an additional oils. They add these oils to increase the shelf life of the peanut butter and to keep the oils from separating. You should avoid anything with hydrogenated oils in them because of the negative effects they have on your cholesterol.

Calories

Controlling your calories is the main factor in losing or gaining weight. So the calories section of the nutrition label is important when you want to make changes to your body. They're always displayed per serving and the serving size is given at the top of the label. In the peanut butter label the serving size is 2 Tbsp and there are 190 calories in each of those servings. When you grab a spoonful of peanut butter, you're probably getting 190 calories or more.

If you want to gain or lose weight, you should count your calories for a short period of time. After you get into the habit of eating the right amounts of healthy food, you can rely on your body to tell you when to eat. The key is eating healthy foods until you're satisfied, not until you're full or stuffed. If you follow those guidelines, you won't have to count calories forever.

Macronutrients

The macronutrients section of the label begins with Total Fat and ends with Protein. This section tells you how much you are getting of certain nutrients. As long as you are eating the right foods with healthy ingredients, you don't need to pay attention to your macronutrient balance. But there are some parts of this section you'll want to keep an eye on.

You should avoid anything with trans fat and added sugars. The FDA now requires food manufacturers to list added sugars under total sugars. The other part of this section to keep an eye on is sodium. Some sodium is okay, but manufacturers pack a lot of foods with an unnecessary amount of sodium. Try to minimize the amount of sodium in your diet. If you're eating healthy whole foods and not adding salt to everything, your sodium intake will take care of itself.

Vitamins & Minerals

Below protein you'll find the amounts of vitamins and minerals. Familiarizing yourself with the vitamins and minerals present in different foods can help you eat healthier. Don't track the amounts of vitamins and minerals you consume each day. Instead, choose foods with a variety of vitamins and minerals. The goal is to get a balance of different vitamins and minerals through our food. The best way to achieve this goal is through a variety of whole foods.

Simplifying the Food Label

If you aren't used to reading the food label, it can be pretty overwhelming to start. Don't stress out about it. Just get familiar with one section and make small improvements over time. After you're familiar with one section, move on to the next one. The key is to make a habit of checking the ingredients and learning as you go. If you only focus on one part, make it the ingredients list. And remember, you don't need to be perfect from day one.