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Ask the Health Coach: What should I look for on a nutrition label?

Ask the Health Coach: What should I look for on a nutrition label?

Reading nutrition labels can be a confusing, time consuming and challenging task. That said, the endeavor can help you to improve your overall health, weather you want to control your weight, blood pressure, eat more natural foods or just have a better understanding of what you really are eating. Here are five useful tips to help you better understand food labels and what they mean to you.

  1. Examine the serving size. Packages are often misleading because although they look like one serving, there are often 2 or more servings there. Bottled drinks and snack bars are an excellent example of this. Other foods to watch for are cereals or other bulk items, whose servings size can vary from ½ cup to 1 ½ cups. Those calories can add up fast! Check out the picture to the right for an example of reading the serving size on a package.
  2. Know the calories per serving. This means you will know the value of what you are eating and how this affects your calorie budget for the day. Not sure how many calories you need daily? Calculate your needs with this Calorie Calculator provided by Mayo Clinic.
  3. Understand the label terminology. Common key words on a package are "reduced", "low", "zero" and "free". Each of these keywords are relative to the product and may not be entirely truthful. For example, "reduced" may mean that there is less sodium in the package than there was previously, but how that compares to other products may not mean it's a better product. "Low" fat is commonly seen on dairy products like ice cream. The ice cream may still have more fat than you desire in your diet and products which claim to be "low" fat are often high in other ingredients like sugar or sodium to flavor it. For a great reference on these terms, check out Five nutrition label tricks to avoid by Cynthia Sass on Shape.
  4. Look for fat, sodium, sugar and protein content. By examining how much sugar or fat there is in a product, you can determine how nutritionally valuable it is. Foods high in sugar, sodium and fat tend to be void of nutritional value, but this isn't always true. Healthy fats like omegas that come from nuts or avocadoes can be great for you. Understanding the difference between healthy fats can help. Check out the Know You Fats page on the American Heart Association website for some great information.
  5. Read your ingredients. Can you pronounce them? That's a great start. If not, you may want to rethink eating the product. WebMD has a great article about artificial or processed ingredients called Reading the Ingredient Label: What to Look for by Peter Jaret; while an article in Men's Health, Five ways to outsmart nutrition labels by Molly Morgan, RD, has information that can help decode tricky food labels.

If you'd like to speak with a registered dietitian about food choices, or need help with nutrition labels, consider a one-to-one nutrition counseling session with Jamie M. Marchetti, MS, RDN, LD. You can schedule an appointment with her at 307-688-1731.

Mindful Eating Class
Are looking for ways to have a better relationship with food? Join Registered Dietitian Jamie Marchetti on Thursday, May 26 from 6-8 pm at the Gillette College Health Science Center, 3801 College Drive, for a free class called Mindful Eating. You’ll come away with a variety of tools on how to approach food, from when to eat, how to eat and even why we eat. Get rid of the guilt and get more satisfaction from every meal, even special occasions and dining out. Register online www.cchwyo.org/foodie.

Have Questions?
Campbell County Health's Wellness Services works to reduce health risks and promote overall wellness among employee groups and individuals across the northeastern Wyoming region. To learn more about Wellness, please visit www.cchwyo.org/Wellness or call 307-688-8051.

This blog was written by Rachel Wilde CPT, MA, CCH Wellness Services Technician and Phlebotomist