How to Read Nutritional Value Labels - Look Out For These Bad Ingredients

By Dave DiFabio

There are many articles on the web about reading food labels. Most articles focus on how to analyze total calories, saturated versus unsaturated fat calories, and added sugar and sodium. These things are certainly important. However I want to focus on six things of which you might not be aware.

First, when buying salmon you want to avoid farm raised salmon because they have higher levels of PCBs compared to wild caught salmon. If it doesn't say "Wild Caught" on the label it is farm raised.

When buying steak, look for leaner cuts. They usually include the terms "Round" or "Loin" on the label. Examples include Eye of Round, Bottom Round, Round Tip Roast, Sirloin, Tenderloin, Top Loin, Short Loin.

Avoid processed meats with nitrates (a preservative and a known carcinogen). If you see the word "nitrates" anywhere on the ingredient label, put it back on the shelf. I know that processed meats are convenient. The good news is that processed meats are available without nitrates. Look for the word "Natural" on the front of the package. Then flip the package over and read the ingredient label on the back. You shouldn't see nitrates listed anywhere in the ingredients. There's been a plethora of bad publicity regarding trans-fat. Why is it so bad for you? Trans-fat is worse than saturated fat. Saturated fat will raise your bad cholesterol. Trans-fat will raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol as well. Trans-fat is found in many processed foods. Just because a package says "No trans-fat" or "Zero trans-fat" doesn't mean it doesn't have any trans-fat in it. Don't fall victim to this labeling loop hole. The FDA allows food companies to claim zero trans-fat as long as there is 0.5 grams or less in one serving. Essentially, the food company is allowed to round down and claim zero.

0.5 grams may not sound like a lot but you shouldn't have any trans-fat at all. The upper limit is 2 grams per day. So how do you make sure the product has absolutely no trans-fat in it? Check the ingredient label on the back of the package for the word "hydrogenated". See it anywhere? Put it back on the shelf because it contains trans-fat. Your average peanut butter contains trans-fat as well. So instead buy natural peanut butter. It's says "Natural" on the front of the package and you won't find the word hydrogenated anywhere in the ingredient label.

When buying eggs you may notice that some packages say they contain Omega 3 enhanced eggs. The Omega 3 is in the yolk so if you're just going to eat the egg whites, don't waste your money.

Finally we all know it's important to make sure we are getting enough fiber in the form of whole grains. Whole grains also contain important vitamins and minerals. Many bread and cereal companies will dress up their package in an effort to make their product seem really healthy. On the front of the package you may see words like oats, wheat, and multigrain. However to ensure that you're getting whole grains, the word "whole" should be the first word on the ingredient label.

Hopefully I've given you some food for thought. Happy shopping!

Dave DiFabio MA, CSCS, USAW

Owner/Strength & Conditioning Coach - Team Speed Fitness LLC