budget talk

What Do Those Food Labels Really Mean?

When you shop for groceries do you ever take the time to read the label before you put an item into your cart? With food prices going sky high it’s more important than ever to get the best return for your food dollar. Food labels aren’t always the easiest things to figure out, but be sure to check out the following-

Just The Facts
The Nutrition Facts section on a product is easy to spot. It’s usually enclosed in a box and tells you what a serving size is, plus, things like the number of calories, sodium, cholesterol, etc. You’ll also find information about vitamin and mineral content.
So how do you decide if a particular item is really worth buying? One thing that often fooled me was serving size. For example, if you’re looking for low fat snacks like crackers and chips, you might note that the fat content says 2.5 grams per serving. Great, you think, that doesn’t sound too bad. But hang on, there’s something else you need to check first. What do they consider is a serving size for this particular item? For some products it might be just five chips. I don’t know about you but when I’m in the mood for a snack, five chips aren’t going to take the edge off my hunger. In the above example, you’d need to multiply the number of servings you think you’ll eat by 2.5. What looks like the idea food, could actually be a bad choice and a waste of your money.

What’s That?
The second thing you’re looking for when you check out packaged foods is the list of ingredients. The main ingredient is always listed first and so on, in descending order. If you buy a can of mushroom soup and don’t see mushrooms getting the top billing, it might be time to move onto another brand.
And one thing I try to avoid is any food with a long list of ingredients, especially ones that sound like compounds that I read about in Chemistry 101.

But I Don’t Have the Time
And what if you don’t have time to check every label when you shop. I’ve found products I like and I know what’s in them so I stick with them. And here’s a guideline to help you make healthy choices.

Trans Fats
For the last two years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that food makers list the amount of trans fat in everything they make. Good news you say, but wait a minute, there’s a catch. The FDA labeling allows food manufacturers to claim 0 g of trans fat as long as the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. 0.5 grams might not seem like a lot, but it can add up over the course of a day. So even if a product says no trans fat, check the label.

How Low is Low?
I like to buy products that are for example, low in sugar, but there are varying degrees of what’s considered low in fats, sugar, etc.
Low fat is 3 g or less of total fat per serving.
Low in saturated fat, is 1 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low calorie means 40 calories or less per serving.
Low cholesterol is 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low sodium is 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Very low sodium is 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Nonfat means the product has less than 0.5 g of fat per serving.

It’s Organic…or is it?
Organic produce and products tend to be more expensive than their regular counterparts so make sure you’ll getting what you pay for.
The US Department of Agriculture’s current definition is as follows,
For vegetables and fruits etc, it’s any produce that’s produced without the use of pesticides, sewage sludge, and synthetic fertilizers. And for animals, including their milk, organic means they’re not given any hormones and antibiotics.

Is It Natural?
I used to think if a product had the words natural stamped on it, it was a good buy, but that’s not always the case. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean the food is good for you. Some products say 100% natural but still can contain high amounts of sugar and fat.

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