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9 Nutrition Label Mistakes Most of Us Make

1. You confuse reduced for low

Reduced sodium doesn't mean low sodium. Just look at reduced-sodium soy sauce: It may have 25 percent less than the original, but it's still a high-sodium product.

2. You're only looking at the total grams of sugar

People often look at the grams of sugar—and stop there. While, yes, the total number of grams of sugar is important, you should pay more attention to the specific ingredients. Sugars like corn syrup or white sugar have been added, while sugars like lactose (in the case of dairy) occur naturally. Natural sugars usually come along with fiber and protein, so they take longer to digest, causing a less dramatic spike in blood sugar.

3. You're not looking at the serving size

If a small bag of pretzels is two servings, prepare to double everything on the nutrition label if you know you're going to eat the whole thing.

4. You think sugar-free is always a good thing

Hate to break it to you, but sugar-free doesn't mean that it's better for you than sweetened foods—or even that there's no sugar in the product. (It can say "sugar-free" on the label as long is it has less than .5 grams per serving. And are you really only having one serving?) The FDA has five artificial sweeteners that can be used in products that are still considered sugar-free: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. According to Blake, research suggests that these sweeteners change the way we taste food and in turn cause weight gain.

5. You load up on low-calorie everything

While low-calorie products may seem ideal when you're trying to stay within a certain calorie range, the most important thing to focus on is the quality of your calories. Choose whole, unprocessed foods to get the most nutritional bang for your calorie buck.

6. You're not looking for lean meat

Not sure how to find lean meat? Ground meats such as turkey or beef have the lean percentage on the label. For instance, a label that says 90/10 means that 10 percent of the weight comes from non-lean sources, aka animal fat. Look for the highest possible first number for the leanest meat.

7. You're ignoring the daily percentage value of important nutrients

When looking at daily percentage values for things like fiber and protein, it can be difficult to determine which products truly excel. As a rule of thumb for all nutrients on a label, 5 percent or less is considered low and 20 percent or more is considered a high source of that nutrient. Keep in mind that these values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet—your needs may be more or less depending on your daily caloric intake.

8. You're buying bread that says "made with whole grains"

According to the FDA, there are currently no standards for identifying the grain content of foods. Bread with a "made with whole grains" label could contain refined flour and only a small percentage of whole grains. But products marked "100 percent whole grain" or "10 grams of whole grain" need to comply with those statements by law.

9. You're falling for the "natural" health halo

Natural is not synonymous with healthy, although many food companies will use the word to entice you. Natural foods contain no artificial colors or additives, but they still may be high in sugar, sodium, or fat. Read the entire label to get the whole picture on a product's nutritional value.