Food Labels and Informed Choices: Do You Know How to Read Them?

Wondering how to read food labels properly? Supermarket shelves are full of marketing meant to entice a consumer to buy.

Supermarket shelves are full of marketing meant to entice a consumer to buy. With all of the upselling, it can be difficult to parse the good information from the bad. That is why food labels exist to make shopping easier on consumers without the glitz and glamour of advertising.

Store Brands

Store branded items are the perfect example of the power Food Labels wield. When two items have similar ingredients, the lower priced item is more attractive. It is important to look at the ingredient list on the label and make sure that it is a 1:1 match of the competing product. In most situations, it is not a 1:1 match and you are looking at two completely different products. Pay close attention to the food label, and you’ll notice how the key words are contains ‘the same active’ ingredients. Now compare both labels, and you will see a noticeable difference. There is nothing wrong with the store branded item, and in some cases, it may even be the better choice. But as a consumer, the food label allows you to be the judge of which one is worth your money.

Nutrition

It’s easy to fudge the numbers of nutrition when consumers don’t understand the differences between saturated fat and cholesterol. Food makers can also have a field day with the numbers when fiber, carbs, and sugar alcohols are on the same label. Being healthy is important, and food labels let you decide what goes into your body. However, all of the available nutritional information is pointless if you concentrate one thing while ignoring the others. High carbs do not negate the low amount of sodium on the label. And high fiber won’t instantly turn a heavy snack bar into a meal replacement. All of this still pales in comparison to the most important value on the label known as serving size. Even if you get everything else right, ignoring the serving size on the label will make all of your nutritional math incorrect.

Reduced Fat

This is a food label claim that gets even the savviest of shoppers. It ranks higher than the companies that put organic on everything that the FDA will allow. Think of a product with reduced fat, and you can probably envision the label. This is by design, and is part of the marketing genius behind the feature. Reduced fat and low-fat items are good, but that doesn’t mean they are automatically good for you. A reduced fat milk chocolate bar is still leagues behind the health values of a dark chocolate bar. When you look at most reduced fat or low-fat items, the better comparison is to the original version. Again, pay attention to the rest of the values on the food nutrition label. They will tell the full story about whether this new and improved food item is as good as it claims.

There Is No Fine Print

Food labels make it a point to highlight the good stuff. The consumer has to read beyond the marketing, and pay attention to the entire label. It’s information that is there to help, so don’t let it go to waste.

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