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By Shari Wright
West Virginia National Guard Dietitian
You ever come across someone reading a nutrition label in a grocery store and wonder if they actually know what they're reading? While it is getting simpler to read, the labels have larger print and clearer serving sizes, people struggle at times.
What do I personally look for?
When I’m checking a package of food the first thing I look for, when I’m unfamiliar with the product, is the ingredients list. If I find a new type of oatmeal I haven’t tried but looks interesting, first thing I do is flip that box over and check out the goods. If the ingredient list is a mile long I move on. I look for something that resembles oatmeal. Something I would make at home, since I don’t have access to soy lecithin, those products aren't in my normal rotation. Now I’m not bad mouthing ole soy lecithin (which is an emulsifier by the way) I’m just saying it’s not in my ingredient pantry. If you actually start looking, you will find lecithin in a ton of stuff but that is for a different article. I try, as much as possible, to find packaged items that are close to ingredients I have at home, like an egg, which is also an emulsifier, but I digress.
NEXT!! I look for the calories. I’ll continue to roll with oatmeal as my example since it’s working so well. If the calories looks crazy I don’t buy it. This is an outlandish example but one bowl of oatmeal shouldn’t be 700 calories or have 30g of sugar. I need to be able to eat breakfast and not feel like I ruined my day.
Which brings me to serving size. If the serving size is crazy, I move on, it's not going in my shopping cart. I'll give you a for instance. I saw a pepperoni roll at a local gas station, while I was in no danger of purchasing said pepperoni roll from a place that sells gas (yes I did just bad mouth gas station food) I was curious about the serving sizes. One pepperoni roll, not a large one mind you, it probably resembled a 6" sub, was four servings. FOUR! Seriously?! We all know we are not going to break that thing up in to four servings! The calories were 300, per serving!! That means that one pepperoni roll is 1200 calories disguised as 300 calories. No one in their right mind would cut up a single wrapped "sandwich" in to four pieces.
Moving on. Lastly, I look at the protein and sugar almost simultaneously. If it’s something that I bring to my diet regularly, I would have minimal sugar that's naturally occurring (an example of naturally occurring sugar would be a date, it's a sweet fruit with no added sugar) and my protein source may not be significant but it will be present.
I have oatmeal sitting at my desk so I’ll continue to use that as an example
Serving: 1/2 cup dry
There’s obviously other information on the label but those things are what I truly pay attention to. Total fat for example is 3g, it contains no cholesterol and no sodium. Dietary fiber is 4g and a few vitamins and minerals (iron, thiamin, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous). I eat generally one cup so you multiple the calories, protein and sugar by 2 and that give you your information. For me this is a good food, protein is higher than sugar and the ingredient list is one!
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