Reading food labels is easy and intuitive. And food labels bring a wealth of information, essential both for your health and for achieving proper weight control.
Below are 2 concrete examples of actual food labels. We will study each one individually, and see what each has to tell us. As we go along, we’ll see how these labels paint an entirely different picture about the respective foods.
This nutrition label tells us the following:
- The recommended serving size is 4 water crackers.
- These 4 water crackers bring in 70 calories, which is a very reasonable calorie amount for a snack.
- The amount of saturated fat in this aliment is zero, which is excellent from a health standpoint and helpful for weight control. (In general, saturated fat below 3 gram per serving is acceptable and can be considered healthy.)
- The amount of cholesterol in this product is zero, which also indicates a healthy product. (Generally, you want the cholesterol to be as low as possible. In any case, avoid products containing more than 50 mg of cholesterol per serving.)
- The amount of sodium in this product is 70 mg, which is well within acceptable limits.
- The sugars (“bad carbs”) in this product are zero – which is excellent from a health standpoint and helpful for weight control. (As a rule of thumb, sugars below 7 gram per serving are acceptable and can be considered healthy.)
- As far as the dietary fiber in our product, it is unfortunately zero. In general, the higher the amount of fiber, the healthier the product, and the more beneficial for weight loss. Lack of dietary fiber in itself does not make this product unhealthy – it just tells us we must look elsewhere for our daily fiber requirement. (Note: Whole grain breads and cereals, as well as the majority of fresh fruit and vegetables, are the ideal products when it comes to supplying fiber.)
- Finally, this nutrition label tells us there is zero Calcium, zero Vitamin A and C, and only an insignificant amount of Iron in our product. So, in order to bring these elements into our diet, we must look elsewhere.
- Are Wellington Water Crackers a healthy snack?
Yes, they are. They contain zero saturated fat, zero cholesterol and zero sugars – all facts that are beneficial for health.
- Are Wellington Water Crackers a good product for a weight loss program?
Yes, they are, if eaten in reasonable portions.
- Are Wellington Water Crackers a complete product – i.e., a product that ensures complete and balanced nutrition?
No, they are not: For one, they lack fiber which is an important element in a healthy diet. Furthermore, they lack protein, vitamins, calcium, iron, and other minerals.
All this is invaluable information, which the nutrition label furnishes at a glance.
So, you can see how reading food labels helped us pick a healthy snack, and also understand its limitations.
Ok, lets move on with reading food labels! Here’s our second example:
This label tells us the following:
- The recommended serving size is 7 candy squares.
- These 7 candy squares bring in 190 calories, which in itself is not an unreasonable amount for a snack.
- However, the amount of saturated fat in this snack is 8 gram – which is quite high. As such, this product cannot be considered heart-healthy.
- The amount of cholesterol in our candy is zero – which is a plus.
- Sodium is zero – which is also a plus.
- Dietary Fiber is 1 gram, which is better than zero, but not enough to bring significant health benefits. (A good number would be 3-4 gram of fiber per serving, or more.)
- The sugars in our candy are 13 grams – which isn’t huge, but definitely more than we would like to have. Sugars are “bad carbs” with high glycemic index. They cause a marked swing in our insulin levels, which facilitates the formation of fat deposits. (An acceptable number for sugars would be up to 7 grams per serving.)
- The food label also tells us that our candy contains zero Vitamin A and C, and little calcium and iron.
- Is Lindt Excellence candy a healthy snack?
No, it isn’t! It has 2 big negatives: The high amount of saturated fat, and the high amount of sugars.
- Is Lindt Excellence candy a good product for a weight loss diet?
No it isn’t, due to the same reason: The high amount of saturated fat and sugars are guaranteed to promote weight gain.
- Is Lindt Excellence candy a complete nutritional product?
No, it isn’t! It lacks fiber, protein, vitamins, calcium and other minerals.
So, you can see how reading food labels can help us understand the true nature of foods. In this particular case, it helped us differentiate between a healthy snack (the water crackers) and one that is less than healthy (the swiss candy).
As you can see, reading food labels is easy and straightforward. And it takes no more than a few seconds to gather the necessary information from the label.
The main points to look at are as follows:
- Saturated Fat content – preferably below 3 gram per serving
- Trans Fat content – should always be zero
- Cholesterol content – as low as possible, in any case lower than 50 mg per serving
- Sugars – preferably below 7 grams per serving *
If any of the above rules is broken, it’s an indication the respective aliment is less than favorable for your health and unsuitable for a weight loss diet.
And here are a few points that indicate a product is good for your health and beneficial for your weight loss plan:
- High content of polyunsaturated fats, in particular omega-3 fatty acids
- High content of monounsaturated fats
- High content of fiber – both soluble fiber and insoluble (dietary) fiber.
- High content of protein
- High content of calcium
Always keep the above in mind when reading food labels. And remember, reading food labels is an integral part of grocery shopping!
* For fresh and canned fruit, the healthy sugar limit can be increased to 15-16 gram per serving, since fructose (the main sugar in fruit) has a low glycemic index. Higher sugar levels (up to 20 gram per serving) may be acceptable for canned fruit – provided adequate portion sizes are respected.