Six key points to look at when reading the label in food:
1. What’s in it? (Ingredients)
First lesson. Before really looking at the nutrition facts label, we should learn
first what the product you will buy has inside. Ingredients are listed IN DESCENDING ORDER, meaning that first ingredient is what it has the most, and the last one, the least.
Look for real ingredients (not a bunch of chemicals!).
BEWARE OF HIDDEN SUGARS: There are 7 ‘hidden’ sugar sources in the example I posted that you might not even be aware of. Watch out for corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey… they are just different types of sugar that hinder our efforts at being really healthy.
2. How large is the serving size?
Food portions in the label should always come with a household measure (cups, tbsp and tsp) and a volume or mass unit (g, ml, oz). It might be useful to get a pack of measuring cups and spoons, and maybe even a food weight. Pay attention to how much you are serving. Sometimes we exceed the serving size and we end up eating way too much of something.
3. How many carbohydrates (and sugar/fiber) does the product have?
When looking out for carbs, there are several things you need to ask to yourself.
Where are they coming from? Does it have added sugars? Is it a source of fiber?
This is the deal. Carbohydrates can come from several sources. Whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits (among others) are the main sources of ‘healthy’ carbohydrates in our diet. The not so healthy ones include sugar, pastries, soda, or any other highly processed or refined foods. When looking for the total carbohydrates in a product we need to know the source (and that’s why we first look at the ingredients listed).
When looking at sugar, we need to check if it is the natural sugar in a product (as in yogurt, for example), or if it’s added sugar (like the types we mentioned earlier). Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk, and that’s why you might find a value of sugar printed in the nutrition label of yogurt (around 8-10 g of sugar coming from lactose per serving). But if you see high fructose corn syrup – that’s an added sweetener. My tip: ditch the added, unnecessary sugar!
On the other hand, fiber is a type of carbohydrates that the body can’t digest, but that has some useful functions for our bodies (depending on which type it is): one function is that it serves as “food” for the microorganisms present in our large intestine; another is that it helps control blood sugar and cholesterol levels and promotes the good functioning of our digestive system. Look for at least 4 g of fiber per serving!
4. How much fat (and what type) does it have?
Fat is important. I hate when I hear moms saying that they follow the “Low Fat” diet (and even worse when they raise “Fat-Phobia” kids). It’s not a good choice!
First, keep in mind that around 30% of the total energy we eat during the day should come from fats.
There are four types of fats: Saturated, Polyunsaturated, Monounsaturated and Trans. We need a little from all, EXCEPT trans-fat: ditch any product that contains them! They are unhealthy for our bodies and metabolism.
Saturated fat, despite their bad reputation, should be a part of our diet in a moderate amount. It can be found mainly in dairy products. One serving of cheese, or some full-fat yogurt every day is ok (look for less than 4 g per serving of SAT-FAT). Mono and polyunsaturated fats should be our main source of fat: salmon, avocados, nuts, olive oil, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and peanuts are some good sources.
Tip for the day: reach out for Omega 3 (found in salmon, tuna, flax and walnuts)!
5. Is it providing protein?
I love protein. Children need protein to have an optimal growth, and adults need protein to maintain and repair muscle tissue. Children need around 1.0 – 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day to ensure a healthy growth. I like to give my kids organic animal protein sources: eggs, greek yogurt, chicken, beef or turkey. Protein per serving in the main meals (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) should be around 10 – 15 g of protein, and for snacks, around 5 – 7 g.
6. Does it have vitamins and minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are real friends. Without them, our entire system would collapse. They are the support for all the biological functions of our bodies, and the lack of any of them can mean a serious threat. When looking at the nutrition label, ALWAYS check that is providing some vitamins and minerals.
For kids, the most important ones to always keep in mind are Iron, Vitamin A,
Calcium and Zinc. However, all the other ones matter as well. Eating a diverse selection of foods will ensure that they get a good combination of vitamins.
*WHAT ABOUT CALORIES?
You might wonder why I’m discussing this last, although it takes the first spot in the nutrition facts label. The reason is that I want you to learn to look BEYOND calories and focus more in the quality of the food you are buying. Keep in mind the six steps and integrate them all the next time you go to the supermarket. Watch out for chemicals, added sugars, weird ingredients and “fake” food! Ready for your next trip to the grocery store?