Reading the ingredient list on food labels can be a simple way to start choosing healthier foods.
The nutrition facts label is a resource on all food packages used to see if a food product is healthy or unhealthy. Whether in a health class or from an article online, you have probably learned by now that you are supposed to read the serving size, calories, macronutrients (including carbohydrates), protein, fat and micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals.
Upon your next time grocery or convenience store shopping, you might have tried to use these guidelines before ultimately getting very confused. Deciphering the numbers and daily value percentages can become daunting. Although the nutrition facts label has its place of importance, consumers have disconnected from what they are actually eating: food. The ingredient list on the food label is a great resource for making easier and healthier purchases. Following these three tips the next time you buy food can assist in making healthier decisions.
1. One tip to keep in mind is that ingredients are listed by weight. The first ingredient listed is the one that is used in the largest quantity in the product. If the first ingredient listed is corn syrup, that means it is the most abundant ingredient. It is best to stay away from products that list sugars, hydrogenated oils or refined grains in the first few ingredients. If the first few ingredients are whole foods or a food you recognize as healthy, this is a safer bet. However, it is important not only to pay attention to the first ingredient, but to the rest of the ingredients listed. For example, a granola bar whose first few ingredients are whole grain rolled oats, chia seeds and almonds would be a better choice than a granola bar whose first few ingredients are whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar and corn syrup.
2. The second tip is to shop for foods with short ingredient lists. When an ingredient list has many items, it may be more processed and full of food additives and preservatives. Highly processed foods have been linked with lower nutritional quality. Choosing a food product with a shorter ingredient list can help steer you toward a healthier option. One healthier granola bar option would be the brand RXBAR, whose apple cinnamon bar contains only seven ingredients, including dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, apples, cinnamon and natural apple flavor.
3. Another important tip to have on file when reading the ingredient list is to avoid foods with added sugar. Added sugars are correlated with diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Sugar hides itself in different forms and names in the ingredients list. Some other names of sugars are cane juice, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar and rice syrup, among many others. A food item may even contain multiple forms of sugar under different names in the ingredient list. The lesser amount of sugar listed in the ingredients label will also be a healthier option.
The nutrition facts label provides important information about serving sizes, total calories, percent daily values and whether a food product is high in saturated fat, added sugars or sodium.
Nonetheless, the ingredient list is a wonderful resource to utilize. Not only is it simpler to read the ingredients list to compare the healthfulness of a product, but also, reading the ingredient list with these three tools at hand can lead to healthier outcomes.
As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
When we pay attention to the food ingredients that go into our bodies, we are ultimately bridging the gap between food and health.