Shop Smart: Behind-the-Scenes of a Nutrition Label

Now that you know how to spot food marketing vs. food data, become an even savvier shopper with these little known aspects of the everyday nutrition label.

#1 – Half the guilt doesn’t mean half the calories

It’s easy to think that you can eat bigger portions of low-fat or fat-free foods, but that’s not true. These foods are often filled with ingredients with little or no nutritional value. And doubling up on nothing is still nothing. Well, except empty calories and chemicals.

#2 – Fat free doesn’t mean calorie free

Candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, alcoholic beverages, and prepackaged snacks may be fat free. However, they’re usually high in sugar and contain empty calories that are anything but empty. They’re often worse than  the fat.

#3 – Sweetened with empty calories

Soft drinks, ice cream, canned foods, jam, sauces, and breakfast cereals can be loaded with sugar. Enjoy only moderate quantities of these types of processed, packaged foods. Also, check the labels. Sugar can be disguised in many forms. Common aliases: sucrose, glucose, malt, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and yes, even this fancy one: “organic evaporated cane juice.”

#4 – Cutting the fat on meat

Pizza lovers beware: one serving of pepperoni has about a third of your recommended daily saturated fat. Love salami? You may not after knowing that in regular beef-and-pork based salami, more than 70% of the calories come from fat. Go for a leaner choice instead, like Canadian bacon or turkey bacon.

Label Truths - Chris Byrnes, LLC#5 – Low fat that’s full of it

Don’t be fooled by a nutrition label claiming to have a lower percentage of fat. It’s serving size and total grams of fat that count. For example, whole milk with 3.5% fat sounds low, but an 8-oz. cup contains 8 grams of fat.

#6 – Organic junk food

If it’s organic, then it must be healthy, right? Not really. Your body processes organic refined flour the same way it breaks down conventional flour. All in all, you’re still eating a high-calorie, low-nutrient letdown.

#7 – The vitamin void

Some products may claim to be a “good source of X# vitamins and minerals.” Take a closer look at the ingredients list. In a common bread, 5 of 7 vitamins and minerals are derived from the first ingredient: enriched flour. Enriched flour is refined flour, which means stripping it of its fiber and adding governmentally mandated nutrients. So you’re gaining some artificial nutrition and losing out on fiber. Good luck with digestion and regularity, among other things.

#8 – What’s inside this wheat bread’s nutrition label?

Ignore fat when it comes to bread. Claims like “1 gram of fat per slice” are really trying to distract you from the truth. The truth is these products have three times more sugar than fiber. Not to mention a dozen additives, chemicals, and preservatives. Apparently, not all breads are made of flour, water, and yeast. Look for whole-grain breads with fewer than six ingredients on the label.

#9 – Fat free vs. Sugar free. Who wins?

Depends on how many calories are in a serving. In sugar-free products, fat may be increased to compensate for sugar’s other qualities besides sweetness, like tenderness. Same for fat-free products. Sugar content may be increased to imitate the bulking and tenderizing effect that fat has on foods. Sometimes, the natural, non-engineered product in a smaller portion size is your best choice.

#10 – The surprise in the cereal box isn’t the toy inside

It’s sugar. Catchphrases like “a hint of sweetness” can mean as much sugar as a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Even a healthy-sounding nutrition label can be loaded with sugar. For a better alternative, look for cereals with under 10 grams of sugar, some protein, and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

BONUS #11 – Drizzled or drenched. It’s all in the dressing.

A bowl full of fresh salad and veggies is chock-full of vitamins and minerals. But it may also be chock-full of unwanted calories and fat. Ranch, Caesar and blue cheese salad dressings clock in at around 150 calories and 15 grams of fat per serving, while French, Catalina, and Thousand Island are loaded with low-grade oils and excess sugar. You’re better off drizzling 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil with a squirt of lemon or flavored vinegars (e.g., balsamic, red wine, or rice vinegar). Save those unwanted calories for something later, like a tasty snack.

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