Learning to read food labels

Photo Source: https://www.diabetes.ie

Staff Report

January 24, 2017 – Food labels are tricky business. For those trying to eat right, it can be downright confusing. There’s a ton of information packed into a small chart, and it leaves many people unsure of where to begin.

“I always tell people the first thing they need to read is the serving size,” said Diane McArtor, a clinical dietitian at Bayhealth. “The serving size on the container may not be what you’re expecting. For instance, the serving size for ice cream is half a cup. But if you’re putting a whole cup into your bowl, you need to double everything on the food label.”

McArtor says the percentages on food labels are also very helpful. “The percentages let you know if a food is high fat or low fat for instance,” says McArtor. “Ideally you are aiming for low saturated fat and sodium foods. You are also aiming for high fiber, Vitamin A and C, calcium, and iron foods.”

It can be challenging to analyze all of the information on a food label. McArtor suggests honing in on priority items. “I tend to look at calories, saturated fat, sodium, and fiber. But others may be more conscious of carbohydrates and sugar. The key is to identify what is important to you and keep an eye on those items” she said.

Not all foods are definitively good or bad. For instance, granola and nuts are high-fat foods that are typically deemed “healthy.” That’s why watching the serving size is important. Packaging can also be deceiving. Foods can be labeled as healthy, when in fact they are not. Items like veggie sticks or yogurt covered raisins aren’t the healthiest snack options out there.

In fact, food labels are undergoing a makeover. By 2018, food labels will begin identifying calories per serving and calories per container. The calories will appear in larger font. The new labels will also have to differentiate sugar versus added sugar, all in an attempt to make them easier to understand for consumers.

McArtor says when in doubt, stick to the basics. “Think about fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy. Try to make food at home versus eating out. Avoid processed food when you can,” she said. “Moderation is the answer. Strive for a healthy well-rounded diet, and know that sometimes you’ll indulge. It’s all about balance.”

Bayhealth offers both inpatient and outpatient dietitians. If you are interested in talking to an outpatient dietitian, consult your primary care physician. If you have any questions about services offered by an outpatient dietitian, go to bayhealth.org/nutrition or call 302-744-6828.

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