Every manufactured food in America has to have a nutrition label on it: it’s mandatory and governed by the FDA. This is great news for consumers because it allows us to make smart choices when it comes to food, but what information is most valuable on the nutrition label?

Don’t judge a food solely by the front label – it can be wildly misleading. Just because the name brand has the word “organic” in it doesn’t even really mean the food inside is organic! You still have to read the labels to get the right information.

Lean Cuisine is not always lean. Healthy Choice isn’t always healthy. Smart Ones can be not so smart. You get the idea.  We will be digging deeper into how to read a Nutrition Label in an upcoming LIVE inside my free Facebook group, but here are the basics to get you started.

 

What’s the Serving Size?

First and foremost, see what the serving size is. It can vastly impact the other information.

Did you know that a serving size of peanut butter is only 2 tablespoons? That’s almost 200 calories of peanut butter – and most of us consider a “serving” to be way more! Similarly, the serving size for butter is a tablespoon but many of us use more on our morning toast. Be mindful of what a “serving” is so you know how many calories you’re actually consuming.

And remember: this is based on a 2000 calorie diet. The FDA says that, on average, an adult human needs 2000 to live healthfully, but you might need more or fewer than that. This means that when you see the percentage daily value for a certain vitamin or mineral, it will be different for you. Keep that in mind as you read labels.

 

What are the Ingredients?

Always ask yourself if you would recognize the ingredients in nature. For instance, did it fly, swim or grow? Is it a plant or was it made in a plant? Are there words on the label that would knock you out of a spelling bee? You want words like “pepper”… not words like “Butylated Hydroxyanisole” (yes, that’s a real one).

Right now, the US doesn’t require “Genetically Modified Organism” or GMOs to be indicated on the label. Although they are required to start labeling them by the end of 2021. Food manufacturers that are using non-GMOs have started labeling it on their foods, so anytime you can, opt for non-GMO foods.

 

What’s on the Nutrition Label?

You have to decide what your personal limits are for sugar, fat, salt, and calories. If you’re watching your sodium intake, keep a careful eye on the content in a lot of pre-packaged goods. I recently found a verde sauce I like that ended up having 300 mgs of sodium in two tablespoons! I won’t be using that one again.

When you start reading nutrition labels, you might be disappointed to discover that a lot of your favorite packaged foods aren’t as healthy as you thought. If you find that one of your favorite foods is packed with sodium, for instance, pull out your smart phone in the store and take a photo of the ingredients. Challenge yourself to make a better version at home with wholesome ingredients. You’ll feel like a superhero when you accomplish this mini-goal.

 

Ironic Last Tip: Don’t Eat Things that Come with a Nutritional Label

After all this talk about nutrition labels, here’s an ironic last tip: try to make the bulk of your diet consist of foods that don’t have labels. Ask yourself, “Did it fly, swim, or grow? Did it have a mother?” A head of lettuce or a banana won’t come with a label; aim for those foods!

When you learn to enjoy foods with simple ingredients, your body will thank you with more energy, clearer thinking, and a longer life. What’s not to love about that?