The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has mandated that food labels provide the nutritional content and ingredients for most food items on the market. These pieces of weight loss information are essential to your plan. The problem is most labels now provide information overload, in text so small you’ll need a microscope to read it. The following map will hopefully make your search a little easier:
Serving size - this is the most important part of the label. If you’re not going to look at anything else on the label, at the very least please read this part. Many of your favorite foods that appear to come in a single-sized serving, might contain as many as three times that amount. Let’s take for example, the popular fruit juice Fruitopia. Did you know that one bottle actually contains two servings? How often do you drink half a bottle? Many items such as a small bag of chips or a single serving of crackers actually contain more than one serving - so before you open your snack or meal, read the label and make sure you know how much one serving size really should be. It’s amazing how the calories add up.
Calories and calories from fat - next, you want to determine how many calories are in your food selections. Pay particular attention to the calories you eat, and not just the fat content, as many foods that are labeled light or low-fat may still be high in calories.
Total fat - this is the total amount of fat per serving. It generally includes both the amount of saturated fat and trans fats. You want to choose foods that are lower in saturated and trans fats, as both are unhealthy and may contribute to a variety of health conditions. Look for foods with less than a gram of saturated fat per serving, and remember that polyunsaturated, Omega-3’s and monounsaturated fats are heart-healthier fat options. Pay attention to how much fat is in a serving, as fat is extremely calorie-dense.
Cholesterol - foods that are high in cholesterol can raise your blood cholesterol levels, specifically your LDL levels (bad cholesterol). Be sure to choose foods that are lower in cholesterol.
Sodium - a lot of foods that we eat on a regular basis are very high in sodium. You should limit your sodium intake to no more than 2.4 grams (2,400 mg) of sodium each day, and if you have high blood pressure you should be consuming even less.
Total carbohydrates - the total grams of carbs includes the combined total of sugar, complex carbohydrates and fiber in a serving. It’s important to choose foods that are low in sugar and high in fiber. You should also try to consume 25-30 g of fiber each day. Following these guidelines will fill you up and keep you satisfied longer, while still preventing you from overeating.
Protein - this is the total amount of protein found in a food, measured in grams. Remember, vegetable proteins are considered an incomplete source of protein, so they must be coupled with other sources of protein to make them complete.
Vitamins and Minerals - this section of the food label will tell you the amount of vitamins and minerals in your food. The percentage of your daily vitamin and mineral requirements is listed, based on a 2000 calorie-a-day diet.
Ingredients - the ingredients are not always listed on a food label. But if they are, pay attention to the first ingredient listed, as this one makes up the bulk of the weight of your food. Also, if you have allergies to a specific food item make sure you pay close attention to this part of the label.
When trying to reach your weight loss goals, the information you find on nutritional labels is essential. Be sure to take the time to learn how to read and understand them.