Are You Reading Food Labels?

If we are going to watch what we eat, we are going to need to learn to read the nutrition label on food packages.  I know.  I hear the moans.  You’re moaning with good reason.  Turns out, those labels aren’t always completely honest, and we will need to do some math.

And rather than explain every line, I will touch on the 5 or 6 most important things to know, this week and next.

First, notice that the labels contain 2 kinds of information.  First, it tells you general information in the footnote on the bottom.  And second, it gives you information specific to the item, including serving size, calories, and grams of each component listed.

So let’s talk about serving size first.  Do you actually use only 2 tablespoons of salad dresssing on the salad you pulled from a fast food window?  Do you know what 2 tablespoons of dressing looks like?  Usually, the dressing package holds 2.5 SERVINGS of dressing.  So if you’ve squeezed the entire package on the salad, and patted yourself on the back for choosing a salad, there’s a good chance you’ve consumed somewhere around 600 extra calories by eating that salad with all the dressing.  And we haven’t even begun to discuss the dressing’s ingredients.

But perhaps the most important thing to know about the serving size is since the FDA has mandated disclosure of Trans-fats on food labels–it must be reported if it totals more than 0.5gms per serving–some clever manufacturers are reducing the serving size to keep the gms/serving just below 0.5gms.

This means you must pay close attention to serving sizes because the last thing you want to ingest is trans fats.  If you put a dish of trans fats on your deck, no animal will eat it, and six months from now, it will not have changed.  That stability is what makes hydrogenated fats so attractive to food manufacturers who need products that can sit on warehouse shelves for weeks–perhaps months–without deteriorating.

Ok.  This might take more than two installments.  But it’s extremely important to be able to read these labels, so for the couple of few weeks, we’ll take a close look.

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