Nutritional labels contain valuable information, but sometimes it can feel like they’re written in another language. With a new school year of packed lunches, you need foods that are convenient but won’t leave your kids nutritionally depleted or full of unhealthy additives by the end of the school day.
Here’s how to crack the food label code and make smarter, healthier choices for your family.
To get the most information from labels, focus on these three key areas.
At first glance, the nutrition facts about a particular food item can seem harmless…until you check the serving size and realize you’ve actually consumed three times what you expected. Often, food companies reduce serving size to make foods seem “better” for you, even when most people are likely to eat more than one serving size at a time.
Rather than just checking the calories of a food item, make sure you also check the serving size to have a clear idea of what you’ll be eating. Consuming more than one serving size of an item shouldn’t necessarily be taboo, but it’s important to have an accurate idea of what you’re putting in your body.
Percent (%) Daily Value
All nutrition labels include a “% Daily Value” column on the far right side. These values are based off a 2,000 calorie diet and can give you a good indication if you’re getting enough or too much of certain nutrients. For instance, you want to avoid getting too much saturated fat, trans fat and sodium, but you might not be getting enough fiber and potassium.
Since your nutritional needs take numerous personal factors into consideration—such as your size, your activity level and whether you’re pregnant or breast-feeding—check with your healthcare provider for more specific and individualized daily values.
This is where you can see what really goes into the food you’re eating. Ingredients are usually listed in order or prominence, so the first food listed is included in the largest quantity. Aim to eat foods that have ingredients you can pronounce.
Do your best to steer clear of foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other harmful additives.
Bottom line: whole foods with real ingredients are always the best choice. In fact, the best foods for you don’t usually come with a nutrition label because they aren’t packaged or processed. They’re the foods you typically find around the perimeter of the grocery store, so aim to do most of your shopping there rather than heading up and down each aisle.
If you’re concerned about making the right nutritional choices for your children, put a few more fruits and vegetables in their lunch boxes. Grapes, carrot sticks and hummus or celery with peanut butter all make healthy and easy additions.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be so complicated. Download our free guide for more tips on maintaining a healthy diet.