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Our Advice on Reading Food Labels

There is no doubt that one of the most challenging parts of managing a restricted diet is grocery shopping for the foods that you can and cannot have. Reading and understanding nutrition labels can be very overwhelming, especially if you are just getting started. However, these labels hold the key to understanding exactly what we are putting in our bodies. 

From deciphering ingredients to understanding nutritional content, mastering the art of reading food labels is essential for making informed choices about our diets and finding success in a healthier you! Let us share some advice on properly reading and understanding these labels.

Start with Serving Size 

Every food label begins with the serving size, which dictates all the nutritional information listed below it. Depending on the diet you may be following, you’ll want to pay close attention to the serving size and base the consumption of the product on that provided number. The serving size is usually listed near the top of the food label and will tell you exactly how much of the food you should consume.

Check Out the Calorie Count

Based on your unique dietary preference, you may pay close attention to your calorie count per day. Many diets provide a daily calorie range that you should stay within each day to help you maintain and/or lose weight. 

The next thing you’ll see on a food label is the amount of calories per serving. You can easily keep track of your daily calorie intake with a number of smartphone apps, such as Noom or MyFitnessPal.

Mastering Nutritional Content

Most diets encourage foods that are high in protein and fiber and low in fats, cholesterol, and sodium. Be sure to pay attention to these key ingredients listed on food labels. Aim for healthy fats like avocados, seeds, and nuts and avoid foods that list high levels of sodium (salt) and cholesterol. 

Another thing you will notice on a traditional food label is “Percent Daily Value (%DV).” This indicates how much a nutrient in a serving size contributes to your daily diet. In general, 5% DV is on the low side and 20% DV or more is typically high. You can use % DV as a tool to gauge whether a food is a good source of a particular nutrient!

Scan the Ingredients

The list of ingredients is the next thing you’ll want to focus on. Did you know that the ingredients are listed in order by the weight of each specific ingredient in the overall product? For example, the ingredients listed closer to the top make up the bulk of the product. 

You will want to look for whole-food ingredients at the top of the list and be cautious of artificial or overly processed ingredients towards the end.

Beware of Sneaky Sugars

When you are reading food labels, you may not recognize some of the typically-used language, and therefore, you may not realize that you’ve been consuming sneaky sugars! 

Be on the lookout for high fructose corn syrup, glucose, sucrose, and dextrose. They can be packed with additives and often found in lots of condiments, sauces, salad dressings, pre-packaged foods, and some of your favorite snacks. Try to focus on whole-food ingredients that avoid these hidden sugars.    

Additionally, additives like food dyes and other preservatives may not align with your dietary preferences. Keep an eye out for those in the ingredients list!

Healthy Options = Healthy You

As you read nutritional labels, you’ll want to emphasize ingredients and serving sizes that are ideal for you and your dietary preferences. Whether you follow a gluten-free, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, or low sugar diet, it is imperative to focus on food products that align with your dietary needs and restrictions. 

While reading food labels is essential, you don’t want to stress over every part of every label. Keep in mind the importance of maintaining a balanced approach to eating. Fresh fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts are always the way to go!

Stores, such as Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Sprouts, are great options for foods that are vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free. 

Check out some of our other favorite healthy snacks that may align nicely with your dietary preferences!  

You’ll also want to focus on brands that you know provide healthy options. Maja is a wonderful vegan and gluten-free brand who uses only the healthiest ingredients and no artificial preservatives in their products. There are tons of other brands and companies out there who share the same goal - to provide delicious, healthy options for a healthier you!

You are sure to master the art of reading food labels in no time! You’ve got this!

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