Checking food contents is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and is critical when shopping for someone with food allergies and certain dietary restrictions. Even though I am a very particular shopper who regularly checks food contents, there are times when I made the mistake of assuming that the product I am purchasing is fine and take it home only to find out that I missed an important ingredient. In some cases, we may have neglected to carefully examine the contents, which could turn out to be big problem for some people.
For example, I don’t use anything containing animal derived glycerin or gelatin. No, I am not a vegetarian, I just prefer to eat my animal in a form I can recognize. Buying chewing gum is always a challenge for me because of this. Once I purchased a packet of a specific brand of gum because the contents indicated it had vegetable derived glycerin. On the next occasion, I purchased the same pack of gum assuming that the brand only used vegetable derived glycerin, only to find out, after chomping down a couple sticks, that this pack did not have the vegetable derived glycerin. While I appreciate the fact that this company does make some of its gum with vegetable glycerin, I would have appreciated it a lot more if they identified it boldly on the packaging.
There are different reasons to check food contents. If one is diabetic, has high blood pressure, allergies, a celiac, has high cholesterol or other specific dietary needs, checking the food labels is a required task. For many of us, however, this can be an overwhelming experience. Not only are the list of contents difficult to read but can be confusing at best. There are, however, some ways to effectively check the contents.
Always check the serving size carefully, especially if you are watching your intake of a certain product. So I am looking at my peanut butter jar and it tells me that the nutritional information given is for 15 grams or 1 tablespoon. If one neglected to read this portion, however, it could easily be assumed that the values given are for the entire contents. The center portion will go on to list fat content, cholesterol, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, sodium content and so on. Below that information, if applicable, you will see a list of the vitamin content of the product.
The nutrition information also tells you what percentage of your daily value (DV), you are consuming in each serving. Many make the mistake of confusing the percent value with percent of the total calories in the serving. However, the DV’s are usually the recommended levels based on a 2000 calorie diet. If you want to control your fat, sodium or carbohydrate intake, an easy way to do so is recognize that 5% DV or less is low, while 20% DV or more is high. So if you want to increase your fiber intake, 20% and above is good; if you want to reduce your sodium intake, 20% and over is bad.
The ingredient list is usually less prominent. I sometimes have to look long and hard to find this information. A good idea is to always walk with a magnifying glass when shopping for food. Generally, ingredients are listed in order of quantity. So if I am checking the contents on my chunky peanut butter, and the first ingredient is roasted peanuts, then I am fairly comfortable that the majority of the contents are peanuts and not vegetable oil or sugar even though vegetable oil is usually the second ingredient.
When purchasing items like fruit juice, I always check for “no added sugar” on the labels. I would generally opt for the no sugar added juices since I know that even though fruit juices can be high in sugar, there is no added sugar to further complicate things. Labels also list “may contain” items. Therefore, if you are not sure whether a product contains milk or not, a maybe on the label should be sufficient to warn you not to use that product if you are lactose intolerant. Checking food contents allows you to make the right choices for you and the health and well being of your family.
Labels can work wonders as a guide to healthy living. In order for them to work for you, however, you must read the labels in their entirety. There are many online guides available to help you read contents successfully, and provide a definition for many of the claims made on food containers. You will learn that “sugar free” is not really sugar free but can contain less than gram of sugar for each serving.