Trying to lose weight? Trying to improve your diet? Want to make the healthiest decisions for your family?
Reading nutrition labels is one of the most important skill to have for a healthy lifestyle. But all the information on food packaging can be overwhelming and misleading.
So here’s how to read nutrition labels, broken down into two simple, essential steps.
Check the ingredient list and try to recreate the product in your head, using the ingredients listed. Take note that ingredients are listed from the most abundant to the least abundant.
So if you’re looking at a bag of potato chips, you should expect potatoes to be at the top of the ingredient list. And if you’re looking at a jar of peanut butter, you should expect peanuts to be the first ingredient listed.
Here’s an example using a brand of lightly salted potato chips:
We can see that the ingredient list is short and sweet. 3 ingredients, all which you can expect from a bag of potato chips. So far, so good.
Next let’s look at another brand, this time a flavored bag of potato chips. See if there are any ingredients you can’t recognize or pronounce the names of:
Not as simple as the first one, is it? Can you imagine recreating this product in your head?
If you’re like us, you would be at a total loss if you were given a table full of these ingredients and told to make a bag of potato chips. This is something of a red flag telling you that this bag of potato chips may be highly processed. (Note: Flavored potato chips tend to be like that. Check out our video to learn more.)
The next step is to compare the key numbers on the nutritional panel with other competing brands or similar products. There are a number of things you should look out for on the nutritional panel, but for now, we want you to focus on just two things: sugar and fiber.
Hopefully you’re aware that too much sugar isn’t good for you, and consuming less sugar means fewer empty calories, which is good news for your waistline.
Fiber promotes healthy bowel function, potentially reducing the risk of heart diseases, and may also indirectly help with weight loss as it helps to keep you full for a longer period of time, preventing snacking.
Many people make a common mistake when reading the nutritional panel: taking the numbers shown as it is.
You must pay attention to the serving size listed. Serving size is determined by the food manufacturers, for example, two cereal companies can choose to use very different serving sizes even though their products are very similar.
If you just look at the fiber numbers of these two brands of cereals, you may think that they contain the same amount of fibre.
If you look closely though, Brand A’s serving size is 55g, whereas Brand B’s serving size is 28g. So you get 3g of fibre from 55g of product A, but you get 3g of fibre from ONLY 28g of product B. Which means Brand B is higher in fibre.
The simplest way would be to use the per 100g column if there is one. Otherwise, you’ll have to do a bit of math on your own to make sure that the two products you’re comparing are on level playing field.
(We’ll be sharing benchmark numbers on sugar and fibre content in the summary below)
Our 2-step method to read nutrition labels has been a great help for us when we shop for groceries. We hope you also found this useful!
We’ve also put together a cheat sheet that covers what we shared in this blog post, together with more information such as how to identify hidden sugar, sodium and trans fat. Make sure to grab a copy of it by clicking the link below.