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Quick Tips for Understanding Food Labels
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Quick Tips for Understanding Food Labels

Gone are the days of blissful ignorance of what’s in your food. Instead, people are much more conscious of how much they’re eating and, perhaps more importantly, what’s in what they consume.

As more and more food labels begin appearing on our food, though, it’s an excellent time for a refresher as to what we should be looking for — and what all the new symbols mean. Read on for five of the easiest tips for scanning food labels to be sure what you’re eating is exactly what you want it to be.

1. Pay Attention to the Serving Size

This is likely something you already do, but it never hurts to reiterate the importance of serving size when looking at a food label. This is especially true for snack foods, where you might be more likely to eat one serving at a time. Consider the fat, sugar and carbohydrate contents, too, as these will be doubled or tripled along with the overall calorie count when you overindulge in a snack.

2. Know Your GMOs

Today’s food label readers should know what a GMO is and whether or not it’s something they want to avoid. Many fruits and vegetables come with a non-GMO label, which means they are non-genetically modified. Today’s farmers use genetically modified crops designed to withstand the elements, which means their growth is more guaranteed than their natural counterparts.

Many scientists agree GMOs are not harmful to our health, but some food buyers avoid eating them, as they feel the amount of research is unsatisfactory. If you fall into the latter group, then add the search for the non-GMO label to your grocery store to-do list. 

3. Opt for the Clean or Natural Choices

You’ve probably heard of clean eating — but did you know the same scrutiny can apply to a label? A clean label on your food means it reflects a handful of specific criteria. The first is an easy-to-read ingredient list without any unnatural, indecipherable ingredients. A clean label is also used on food that’s transparent in its packaging so that you know exactly what you’re buying.

Anything with a clean label is likely to be fresher than its processed, non-perishable counterpart. Look out for phrases such as “100 percent natural” or “real fruit” to ensure that what you’re buying is clean.

4. Find Out About the Fat

It used to be simple — high fat was bad while low fat was healthy. Today, we have a more sophisticated understanding of fats and know some of them are good. Be on the lookout for foods that have as little saturated or trans fat as possible. On the other hand, healthy fats like nuts, fish and vegetable oils will likely have high polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which should make up the majority of fats you consume.

5. Steer Clear of Too Much Salt and Added Sugar

We’ve gone over fat content, but the sodium and sugar contents are important — especially in today’s salt-and-sugar-obsessed society. When you read your label, make sure sodium content is either less than or equal to the amount of calories per serving. So, if a handful of chips has 160 calories per serving, it shouldn’t have more than 160 mg of sodium in that portion.

As for sugar, be diligent in your search for added sugars. Natural ones found in fruit, for example, are okay. But added sources of sugar spike your bloodstream and make it hard for your body to maintain its healthy level of blood sugar, among other adverse side effects. Check the ingredients lists for secret sources of added sugar, including agave syrup, fructose and honey.

These are just five of the many, many ways you can be more aware of what you are or aren’t getting from the foods you eat. By reading the label, you’re putting yourself on a path to a healthier lifestyle, and there’s not much better you can do for yourself.

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