How to Read a Nutrition Label
Remember being a kid and tearing open the cereal box to get the special
decoder ring? Today's cereals should come with a ring you can use to crack the
code of their nutrition labels. For those who understand its secrets,
the nutrition label holds valuable information for winning the war on fat.
Since there is no special ring, we'll give you the skinny on reading nutrition
Beware of the Front Label Tease
"Heart Healthy!" "Enriched With Calcium and
Vitamins!" "Low fat!" The front label is where manufacturers can
say whatever they want. But when you look at the nutrition facts on the back
you might wonder if the two labels refer to the same product. "Speed read
the front label and go straight to the nutrition facts," says Kerry McLeod,
author of The Last Diet Book Standing. She tells WebMD why the following
front label terms should be red flags:
- Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus. This means nutrients
such as minerals and fiber have been removed and vitamins added in processing.
Look for 100% whole-wheat bread, and high-fiber, low-sugar cereals.
- Fruit drink. This means there's probably little or no real fruit and
a lot of sugar. Instead look for products that say "100% Fruit
- Made with wheat, rye, or multigrains. These products have very
little whole grain. Look for the word "whole" before the grain to
ensure that you're getting a 100% whole-grain product.
- Natural. The manufacturer started with a natural source, but once
it's processed the food may not resemble anything natural. Look for "100%
All Natural" and "No Preservatives."
- Organically grown, pesticide-free, or no artificial ingredients.
Trust only labels that say "Certified Organically Grown."
- Sugar-free or fat-free. Don't assume the product is low-calorie. The
manufacturer compensated with unhealthy ingredients that don't taste very good
and, here's the kicker, have no fewer calories than the real thing.
The Nutrition Facts Label
Start your label reading adventure by looking at the
"serving size" printed right under "nutrition facts." Portion
control is an important part of weight
management, but don't expect food manufacturers to make it easy for you.
Pop-Tarts, for instance, come two to a package. The label says one serving is
200 calories. The catch is that's for "one pastry."
Label reading is easy when a package states there are one or
two servings. It's the fractions that will send you to the calculator. For
example, the label on a 6-ounce can of StarKist Tuna in water says one serving
is 2 ounces (drained) so you might think the can holds three servings. But
because you drain off some weight, the can actually contains 2.5 servings.
And how realistic are those printed serving sizes anyway? The
Beach diet recipe for South Beach Chopped Salad With Tuna calls for a
6-ounce can of water-packed tuna, and that's for a single serving of salad.