Figuring Out Food Labels Video Understanding food labels video icon

Figuring Out Food Labels

Consult with your health care provider before beginning any new physical activity.

As you're traveling the road to better health, you may like to know what's actually in your food and how it's affecting your body.

So you turn the product over and you find the food label. Now at first glance, it may seem like too much to bother with.

But, look closer, and you’ll find powerful information that can help you make better choices about what to eat. So let’s take a closer look at the label.

Today, we’re going to focus on ingredients list, serving size and the best way to evaluate the label. By knowing what to look for on the label, you can identify what’s important for your health needs.

If you have only a few seconds to scan the label, go straight to the ingredients list. It may be the most important, yet most overlooked part of the food label.

I call it our "source of truth" because it will give you a clear and simple picture of what's in the food you’re about to put in your body. It reads just like a recipe, showing the ingredients in order from greatest amount to least.

Here are three tips to keep in mind when looking at the ingredients list:

First, a shorter list is a better list.

Foods with a shorter list of ingredients are typically less processed and better for you.

But remember, the best foods for you don’t even have a label or ingredients list, like fresh fruits and vegetables, so reach for those!

Second, look for ingredients that you recognize, such as whole-wheat, whole-grain oats, peanuts, rice, flour, potatoes, tomatoes, tomato paste, eggs, cheese, corn, just to name a few.

The point is that if you recognize the word, your body is going to recognize the food.

Often, the foods that are best for us are those with simple ingredients that our bodies can easily process. So remember this the next time you grocery shop.

Third, search out the sugar words. A good rule of thumb is that if sugar is one of the first three ingredients, you may want to make another choice. But remember, there can be several different types of sugar in one product.

For example, did you know a popular breakfast food contains 8 different types of sugar? So what are the most common words you can look for that mean SUGAR?

Syrup

Words ending in “-ose,” like lactose, fructose, sucrose and others.

Cane (Because remember, sugars come from sugar cane!)

And, of course, sugar

Many of them you may already be familiar with, but here’s a list of what you’re looking for.

Once you start looking for these words, you’ll be amazed at how many everyday foods contain different types of sugar.

After ingredients, take a good look at the serving size. You’ll find serving size near the top, right underneath Nutrition Facts.

Now remember, the rest of the nutrition facts are based on one serving size. This is where it can get tricky, because we often eat more than just one serving.

For example, the average person would pour about this much granola. But, this is a serving based on the label.

So, if you were to eat this bowl of granola, you’d be eating two servings. So when you look at the Nutrition Facts, remember that means you are eating two times the calories, two times the protein, two times the fiber, two times fat and so on.

This bowl of granola has two servings and is 480 calories, while this one with one serving is a half cup and 240 calories.

You are going to be surprised when you start to take note of the serving sizes of the foods you eat. A helpful tip is to keep a set of measuring cups with you, handy when you’re making meals.

As for the rest of the label, the approach I want you to keep in mind is, personalize it! In other words, narrow down what’s important to you.

What have you and your health care provider talked about when it comes to healthy eating?

Are there foods you want to avoid or eat more of?

The label will have the answers if you approach it with what you and your family need.

For example, if you’re focused on heart health or watching your cholesterol, you may want to raise the unsaturated fat, while lowering the saturated and trans fat.

Do you have high blood pressure? If so, you may want to pay attention to the sodium.

Do you have diabetes? Then look for the amount of carb or sugar you need at each meal.

Are you working out to build muscle? Then become familiar with protein, as well as how much you need each day.

And if you’re a runner, achieving the right amount of healthy carbohydrate is going to help fuel those long runs.

No matter who you are, the label can help you eat to feel your best. It can help empower you to make more healthful choices on your journey to good health.

Talk with your health care provider about what you eat to make a plan for your personal health goals.

Lilly USA thanks Whole Foods market for allowing this video to be filmed at the Whole Foods Market in Carmel, Indiana.

 
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Learn more about what to look for when reading a food label.