The Food Label Can be Your Friend

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I had a meeting today with a local superintendent for Los Angeles Unified and he shared with me that he and his family have recently started trying to eat more healthfully. But like many people he is often swayed by clever marketing when grocery shopping. He shared a story with me about grocery shopping with his kids. They wanted him to buy a certain cereal and he felt an alternate type would be much healthier. The kids quickly pointed out the Nutrition Facts label of both packages and demonstrated that their choice was actually a healthier one. (Of course I was thrilled to hear kids were reading food labels. Warmed my little heart). What smart kids! They went deeper and turned the package over to see the back.

I always tell people to ignore the front panel of packaged food and go straight to the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients list on the back. These are the two places where you will really get useful information that can help you make better choices. Do not be taken in by those beautiful pictures or flashy descriptive terms on the front. Those are put there just to sell you the product. Be a smart and alert consumer!

Here are just a couple of tips when food sleuthing:
When reading the Nutrition Facts panel, pay careful attention to how large a serving size is of the food and how many servings per package. Often when we think we are buying a single serving package of food, the Nutrition Facts label tells us otherwise. Serving sizes are usually much smaller than what we think is reasonable. If there is more than one serving per package make sure you calculate how many total calories are in that food if you were to eat the whole thing.

If the food is something like cereal, the serving sizes can be wide and varied. Some cereals list as much as 2 cups per serving (some of the "puffy" type cereals) while others are only a 1/2 cup (like granola which is very calorie dense) per serving. So you've got to be careful.

Something to look out for in the ingredients list when buying breads, rices and pastas is "whole" grains. Avoid as much as possible any products that list "enriched" flour or rice as the first ingredient. Enriched flours have been stripped of many of their nutrients via processing and by law must add back in iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. But that's it.. fiber, zinc and a whole slew of other nutrients are not added back in.

Ok that's it for now. Ciao for now. Have a fruit and veggie filled day!
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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