Do read the fine print, but maybe don’t listen…
I’m used to reading makeup labels — I put those products on my face after all, but food labels? Not so much.
You think it would be the other way around, I don’t ingest makeup like I do food right? Well, this actually the reason people ought to read food labels — you are going to eat whatever that jar, bag, or box contains.
There are many benefits to reading your food’s labels.
For instance, you can avoid eating things you are allergic to. Dairy products are actually one of the food labels I read because I am intolerant to an ingredient prevalent in milk, ice cream, and other dairy products. Some common foods people are allergic to include:
- Cow’s milk
Eating foods you have an allergy to can come with some pretty serious reactions like rash, swelling, trouble breathing, hives, digestion issues, and more. Best to avoid that if you ask me.
You can find out if a food product contains something you are allergic to by reading the ingredient list on its label. Also, sometimes a food does not directly contain a particular food but is made in a facility that produces it too (this is usually noted on the label somewhere).
Food labels can consist of product dates, an ingredient list, nutrition facts, and daily value percentages.
Product dates usually consist of either a sell-by date or expiration date. I do check this often because eating expired food can cause a person to experience some pretty unpleasant symptoms.
If you eat expired meat for example, you can develop symptoms of food poisoning like stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. This happens because expired food has a higher risk of being spoiled and contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or viruses.
The ingredient list doesn’t only help you avoid eating things you are allergic to, it also helps people maintain any diet they might be following. Vegans don’t consume animal products and vegetarians don’t eat meat.
Moreover, you may have not known that ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight. Believe it or not, some guacamoles contain more water than avocado (according to their label’s ingredient list).
The nutrition facts help people reach their diet goals too. This part of the label is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’ll tell you how much calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, proteins, and vitamins and minerals a product has per serving size.
And although produce doesn’t come with a label, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) says you can find that information by calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Information Center or by visiting their website.
My brother-in-law reads the nutrition label every day in order to manage his diabetes. I try to steer clear of things high in trans fat or sugar and find a healthier counterpart. Reading the label can help you live healthier overall in these ways.
Daily value percentages inform you how much of a nutrient is in the product that contributes to the recommended, adult daily diet. The daily values on labels are for a 2,000-calorie diet and would need to be adjusted for someone who eats more or fewer calories, according to the NIA.
Well, I definitely learned something new. No wonder most Americans exceed the recommended limits of these nutrients, all those numbers could easily get jumbled.
Nemours says that, in the U.S., the FDA and the USDA are the ones that decide what information is required on labels, but the product’s companies may choose to include more such as which country the food comes from, if it’s organic, or reasons you should choose their product.
But be wary, there is more to some of that information than meets the eye.
HealthTap lists some other popular phrases you might want to consider more closely such as:
- Made with real fruit
- Made with whole grains
They claim most of these terms are marketing ploys because the FDA has yet to define the meaning of them.
For example, “all natural” should mean it doesn’t contain any additives or artificial ingredients but many people just take it to mean that the product is healthy which could be untrue. Similarly, “made with real fruit” doesn’t mean the product is healthy. Any food that has some fruit ingredient can have this label.
“Organic” could mean a number of things. Maybe only some of the product’s ingredients are organic. This is why you should make sure a label says it’s “100 percent organic.” This means none of the food contains pesticides or genetically modified organisms.
“Reduced fat” is another to watch. Reduced-fat is better than the original version, but just because something doesn’t have as much as fat does it mean that it’s healthier. HealthTap says companies often add other things like sugar to compensate.
Dietitian Cara Harbstreet agrees that while food labels lead to safer food, they only tell part of the story. She has seen people base their choices regarding nutrition off of food labels alone “all too often.” She encourages people to remember that labels don’t assign moral value to food, don’t reflect the best way of eating for you, and can be arbitrary.
So although reading labels can be useful in supplementing your decision to buy a product, labels should not be the sole determiner of the food you consume.