Food packing claims and nutrition labels can be downright confusing and misleading. "Low fat," "100% whole grain," "high fiber," "gluten-free," "organic"—these are just a few of the many front-of-package marketing claims that bombard consumers as they grapple with food selections and try to figure out those nutrition labels. When researchers looked at more than 2,000 prepared meals and cereals for a Journal of Food Science study, they found that the type and number of claims on the package didn't actually have much to do with the nutritional quality. Here are five tips to help you shop healthier.
Ignore the front of the package. It's an advertisement. Your best bet for understanding the quality of the ingredients in the box is to head straight to the ingredient list. Then check out the nutrition label. You can use front-of-package claims to narrow down food categories like gluten-free or organic but remind yourself that those labels don't guarantee that the food is healthy. (Be especially wary of these foods with a health halo.)
Investigate the Ingredients. Check out the ingredient list and ask yourself the following questions: "How would I make this at home?" "Can I buy all the ingredients in the grocery store?" This is a good first step toward eliminating the less-than-healthy ingredients that may lurk in processed foods.
Stick to the serving size. The serving size listed on the nutrition label is often lower than the amount of food you'd actually consume. This misinterpretation of the food label and nutrition information may cause you to assume a food is healthy when, in fact, it is not. Try this: Pour out what you would consider your "normal" portion of cereal. Now, grab a measuring cup and measure exact how much you're eating. Compare that to the serving size listed on the package. Was it close?
Choose whole foods. The easy way to escape the confusion of the packaged food aisle is to eat a diet that mostly consists of whole foods. Whole foods are often more nutrient dense than their highly processed counterparts. Plus they're rarely wearing a nutrition claim. When was the last time you grabbed an orange that was wrapped in an advertisement touting its high fiber and antioxidant content?
Eat intuitively. Redefine your relationship with food. Abandon the idea of good and bad foods as well as one-size-fits-all serving sizes. Focus your intentions on nourishing your body with wholesome foods. Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're satisfied. Eat with gratitude and savor each bite—you'll find that you're far more satisfied no matter the food choice.
Katie is a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian and wellness advocate. She believes that health is about more than what you eat. She aims to inspire people to live well through messages of self-love, food enjoyment, mindfulness, and sustainable, conscious living. Katie appears in regular nutrition and cooking segments on local and national TV. Her writing and recipes have been showcased nationally in O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle, and more. Katie is the dietitian for the Philadelphia Flyers and Phillies. Her first cookbook is being published by the American Diabetes Association in late summer of 2016. For recipes and wellness tips visit her blog NourishBreatheThrive.