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Decoding Food Nutritional Labels

Grocery shopping on Saturdays, meal-prepping on Sundays and always keeping healthy snacks on hand when out and about—this is what we’re supposed to do to keep ourselves healthy and fit. But let’s be honest, the convenience of packaged snacks and the temptation of instant satisfaction of vending machines are just so irresistible, especially during the busy hours of the day. That’s okay though, as long as you do a little reading.

It helps a lot to read the nutritional facts. However, it’s not necessarily the first thing to mind. Yep, you heard that right. Before you start searching for the caloric, protein, fiber and sugar content of your treat, know first where these things came from by reading the ingredients list. Here are the reasons why we suggest reading that short list first before anything else.

1. It helps identify right away whether the food contains something you want to avoid.
If there is a specific ingredient you want to steer clear of, perhaps because of allergic reaction, reading the ingredients list is the best way to go. Sure, there are label certifications that state that the food is gluten-free or has no GMOs, but there’s no verification whether the food is free from peanuts or herbs and spices, which may cause allergic reaction to some.

Reading the ingredients list help a lot in avoiding the food components you don’t like or have intolerance to. Also, it makes it easier to avoid straight up unhealthy elements like trans fats.

2. It makes you think outside of the “calorie” box.
The nutrition facts section gives you a quick evaluation whether the food is healthy or not. If it is low in calories and meets your needs for fiber and protein, it’s likely that the food is healthy enough. However, it doesn’t let you know how healthy the food is.

Just because a pre-packed food contains a certain amount of macronutrients doesn’t automatically mean it provides the most nutritional bang for your money. For instance, a slice of white bread and a slice of sprouted grain bread both delivers 100 calorie. But the former is made with refined grains, which causes your sugar level to spike and crash; while the latter is made with whole grains that provides essential nutrients like B vitamins and fiber. See the difference?

3. It makes the food transparent in your naked eye.
A wholesome label (e.g. low fat!) or a health-inspired picture (e.g. a fit woman eating a bowl of cereals) might suggest that the food is healthy, but it is in the ingredients list you’ll know the truth.

This section will not only tell what the product is made of; it’ll also give you clues how much of what ingredient is in there. Ingredients are listed by quantity, with the top three ingredients making up typically 75 to 80 percent of the food. If you see nuts and fruits near the top of the ingredients list, you know you’re doing the right choice.

The back (and side) labels of your pre-packed treats are jam-packed with useful information, so make sure to make good use out of it. Next time you’re going grocery shopping, make the ingredients label of every food you’re getting your first stop.