Grocery shopping can be tricky, especially since there are so many labels with the words, “100% Whole Grain,” “All Natural,” “Fat-free” or other eye-catching advertising. It can also be difficult to get in and out of the store with exactly what you need when you have a little one (or two) in tow. With Keenan almost two years old (can you believe it?), he loves to help me grocery shop by picking the produce or other items and putting them into our cart. I call him my “Little Shopper Helper.” It’s a great teaching moment for him to learn about all of the healthy food we are putting into our cart. On another note, I find that it helps him eat his veggies (he is excited to try them), since he helped picked them out at the store (a nice bonus!).
Shopping wisely through label reading is one key to keeping your weight in check and staying fit. Labels can tell you a lot about a food and most importantly, identify if it is healthy. With so many processed foods on the market, it is crucial to look at the labels to see what you are putting into your body.
Below are some tips on what to look for when reading labels.
Serving Size: Always follow the serving size, as this will not only help to keep portions in check when you serve the food, but it can save you money. For example, how many of you follow the serving size on a box of cereal? Most people just dump the cereal into their bowl until it looks like a good amount. If you are guilty of this, you are probably consuming 2 – 2 ½ servings, which is almost triple the amount of calories and costing you more!
Total Calories: The total calories and serving size go hand-in-hand. You want to see how much bang for your calories you are getting. The greater the serving size for a low amount of calories, the better. But, in general, you want to look for products that have a low amount of calories, preferably less than 250 for any one food item per serving size.
Cholesterol: Cholesterol is made from animal products (anything that has a liver). The more you consume, the greater the chance it has to sticking to your arteries, thus increasing our cholesterol levels. Aim for 0 mg of cholesterol, but no more than 5 mg per serving.
Sodium: The daily recommended allotment for sodium is 2,300 mg (one teaspoon of salt), which is not very much. Sodium not only makes you retain water, but it can make it difficult to lose weight, not to mention increase cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Aim for less than 200 mg for any one food item per serving.
Fiber: The nutrition powerhouse. Fiber does wonders for many things: controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels, in addition to keeping you regular. The more fiber you consume, the better. Aim for something that contains more than 4 grams.
Sugar: Sugar seems to be in almost every food product these days, whether it is “evaporated cane juice”, high fructose corn syrup, plain sugar, cane sugar, etc. The recommended daily sugar allotment for a 1,600-calorie diet, for example, is 22 grams, so aim for less than 6 grams for any one food item per serving. Better yet, look for items with no added sugar.
Trans Fats: Trans fats are hydrogenated oils that are put into food as a preservative to have a longer shelf life. The fats only clog arteries and increase cholesterol levels. Look for foods without trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients.
Ingredients: Look at the ingredients: how many do you recognize? If you only recognize a couple and the rest are names you can’t pronounce, move to the next food item; you probably don’t want to put those chemicals/preservatives in your body.