When you first look at a snack package, you want to look at what’s in it and determine whether or not you want to put these ingredients in your body.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by amount. The first ingredient listed is the largest amount in the product; the last ingredient is the least amount. For example, the food label to the right is a very popular snack item in the United States and as you can see, Enriched Corn Meal is the #1 ingredient in this snack.
As you read the ingredient list, you want to be on the lookout for unhealthy fats and highly processed ingredients, such as vegetable oils, artificial flavors, and artificial colors. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t know what something is, you probably don’t want to put it in your body. Also, the more ingredients a product has, the less healthy it is.
When reading a nutrition facts label you want to focus on these main components:
Calories per serving
Be sure to decipher how many calories are actually in one serving. For instance, in this snack, 1 ounce (about 21 chips) is about 150 calories. So if you eat the entire bag, you will have several servings.
Note: If you want to eat these chips, I would suggest you count 21 chips, then put the rest of the bag away.
You want to be aware of how much fat there is in a product. Based on the ingredients from this product (see nutritional label on the right), we know the fat is from unhealthy ingredients.
Trans fat is the fat you want to avoid. It’s usually in shelf-stable foods. In this food label, you’ll notice there is no trans fat, however, don’t be fooled–there are vegetable oils in the ingredients list. Companies are required to list trans fat and saturated fat, but that is not the only fats that are in this product.
Sodium plays a critical role in regulating our bodies, but too much sodium can cause bloating, heart, and kidney disease. Adults need about 1,500-2,000 mg of sodium per day, but the average intake is 5 times that amount.
While this product doesn’t have a high level of sodium, high sodium levels are commonly used as a preservative in soups, sauces, and frozen “diet” dinners.
When you look at your carbohydrates (AKA carbs), we want to look at the fiber and sugar content. We ideally want the fiber content to be high because we need at least 25 grams of fiber per day and most people don’t get that. We also want the sugar content to be low.
Did you know that sugar has the same addictive properties as tobacco and alcohol? The more sugar you eat, the more you need to satisfy your cravings. Sugar is one of the leading culprits behind the childhood obesity epidemic and can be found hidden in an alarming number of our favorite foods, such as yogurt, cereal, dressings, sauces, and condiments.
Here is a list of the most common names for hidden sugar in food products: Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Evaporated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado, Sorghum syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar, Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solids.
Overall, you want to make sure you have a good amount of protein in your diet. Snacks, such as this example, don’t have a lot of protein.
If you want healthier snack ideas, click here.