Decoding Food Labels: What to Look for and What to Ignore

Decoding Food Labels: What to Look for and What to Ignore

Food labels can be confusing, with various claims and terms that may not always mean what you think they do. In order to make healthy choices and avoid falling for marketing hype, it’s important to understand which labels are regulated and which ones aren’t.

One well-regulated label to look for is the USDA Organic Seal. This label ensures that the food is produced without harmful pesticides and fertilizers, as it follows stringent verification rules. On the other hand, labels such as “pesticide-free” or “zero pesticides” are not regulated and may not guarantee pesticide-free products.

If you’re trying to reduce your salt intake, look for labels that indicate “low sodium” or “very low sodium.” Foods with “low sodium” have 140 mg or less per serving, while “very low sodium” foods have 35 mg or less per serving. However, be cautious with labels such as “no salt added” or “unsalted,” as they don’t necessarily mean sodium-free. These terms simply indicate that no salt was added during processing, but the food may still naturally contain sodium.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, look for labels that state “no added sugars” or “sugar-free.” “No added sugars” means that the product does not have any additional sugars. However, be aware that foods like tomato sauce and ketchup naturally contain sugar, so it’s important to focus on added sugars rather than the natural ones. Terms like “lightly sweetened” or “a tad sweet” are not regulated and may not accurately represent the sugar content.

In the bread aisle, opt for labels that state “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat.” Labels like “multigrain” or “made with whole grains” may contain refined grains, so they are not as reliable. Look for claims like “excellent source of” or “high in” fiber, which ensure that you will have at least 20 percent of the daily value of fiber per serving.

If you’re unsure about a product, flip it over and check the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel. These provide more accurate and detailed information about the product’s nutritional value compared to front-of-package claims.

It’s important to be informed and cautious when interpreting food labels. Understanding these labels can empower you to make healthier choices and avoid falling for marketing tactics.

– Consumer Reports

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