Nutrition knowledge is great, but how does one translate this to the grocery store or local corner market. A few tips from someone who has scoured the shelves of many grocery stores over the past several years in search of healthier choices.
1) Don’t get fooled by the cover! Food manufacturers are out to make a profit, not necessarily promote your health. Statements made on the front of the package can be misleading. So, refer to the Nutrition Facts panel and the ingredient list. This information is factual. This then leads me to point 2.
2) Learn how to read nutrition facts panels and ingredient lists. The ingredient list goes from the most abundant component to the least abundant (based upon weight). So, if you are looking for a whole-grain product. The first ingredient should be something like “whole wheat flour” or “whole oats”.
3) What to pay attention on the Nutrition Facts Panel. First, check serving size. To compare products on the store shelves, make sure serving sizes are the same. This is another trick that food manufacturers like to use. Next, look for fat content and type of fats present. Avoid foods with saturated fats and absolutely avoid foods with trans-fats. Lower cholesterol is also better. Next, check sodium and fiber content. Higher fiber is good and high sodium is bad. Total carbohydrate and sugar content can be misleading as you can’t tell if it contains added, refined sugars (which are bad) or naturally occurring sugars (which are better).
4) Learn different “buzz” words for added sugars and true whole grain products. There are numerous types of added sugars, which are a nutritional dead end. A few examples, all meaning added, refined sugars: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup and table sugar. And…there are more! Overwhelming, huh? Same goes for whole grain products. Look for these terms at the beginning of the ingredient list: whole grain, whole wheat, whole (other grain), stoneground whole (grain), brown rice, oats, and oatmeal. Again, food manufacturers will trick you with words and labels regarding whole-grain products.
5) Remember, “free” does not necessarily mean zero. For example, if a food contains less than 0.5 g of trans-fat per serving, it can be labeled “trans-fat free”. Thus, you want to avoid foods that have partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list (even if they are labeled “trans-fat free”). Again, educate yourself and read food labels!
6) Look toward the end of the ingredient list where you typically find preservatives listed. Avoid meat products with nitrates and nitrites as these may increase risk for canner, in particular colon cancer. Other ingredients are also listed here, such as dyes and other additives. If you don’t know what something is, you should exercise caution and do a little research.
In summary, nutrition knowledge does one little good without also having the knowledge to decode food labels, Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredient lists. Having both sets of knowledge will prepare you to withstand the onslaught of manufacturer tricks and ploys used to get you to but their products. If you focus on whole, natural foods, you are in good shape, but we all will need other prepackaged products on the store shelves. This is where we need to educate ourselves and make wise choices. Happy shopping!