I often get DMs from clients asking if a certain protein bar, cereal, salad dressing, etc is healthy. As a consumer, it can be hard to know what products are actually nutritious! Food packaging is tricky and doesn’t always have our best interests or health in mind. The nutritional values label hold all the answers you seek!
What we already know: eating mostly whole foods (vegetables, fruits, lean proteins like poultry and fish) will ensure that most of what we eat is nourishing for our bodies. But we will also need to eat some packaged and processed foods. It’s important to remember that not all processed foods are unhealthy. The key to determining whether a packaged food is nutritious is knowing how to read and understand food labels!
I know, because I used to be a copywriter for a marketing company. The goal is to have engaging wording that entices people to buy your product. Marketing companies will often try to use catch phrases to sell a food. Many of these catch phrases really mean nothing.
Words like “all-natural” or “natural flavour” make food sound healthy but really tell us nothing about the nutritional value or the ingredients. A food can also be vegan, organic, and gluten-free, and still be filled with unhealthy amounts of sugar, fat or sodium. The description and words on the package itself are created by marketing companies, whose goal is to get you to buy the food. They don’t have to be 100% up front about whether or not the food is healthy.
The nutrition label, however, can’t lie.
This tells you exactly what is in the food. Look for a short ingredient list with foods you recognize. If there are lots of ingredients that end in “ose” that means there are lots of sugars in the food. For more on hidden sugars in foods, check out this post.
In a box of crackers, maybe the serving size is 5 crackers. Ask yourself if you’re going to eat only 5 crackers. If not, you’ll have to calculate the nutritional values to correspond with the number of crackers you plan to eat. If you eat 10 crackers, that’s two servings, and you would multiply all the values listed by 2.
Key nutrients to pay attention to on the label are saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Generally, we want to eat LESS of these. A a good rule is to aim for foods that contain 5% or less of the daily recommended intake of these ingredients per serving.
Nutrients to eat MORE of would be fibre, vitamins, and minerals. A food that’s high in fibre, for example would have about 15-20% of the daily value in one serving.
It can be tricky to navigate which foods really are nutritious. You can empower yourself by reading the labels. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, Google it!
You are in charge of what you put into your body. As long as you read and understand food labels you can make choices that feel good for you.