It’s okay to enjoy a snack every now and then. A friend recently turned me on to a new snack that I’ve been enjoying a little too much of. I like “sweet” and “crunchy” in a snack so these Multigrain Fiber Crisps by Quaker True Delights definitely hit the spot. With my second handful, the guilt began to creep up. It was then she said, “don’t worry, they’re healthy!” I took her word for it and picked up a bag later that day. Sure enough, the bag boasts that the crisps are a “good source of fiber”, have “17g whole grain” and that they are baked. Sounded healthy enough to me. I was halfway through the bag when I flipped it around to read the Nutrition Facts. There are only 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per serving…not bad. There are also 23 grams of Carbohydrate, and 6 grams of sugar (which happens to be the second ingredient in the list – manufacturers are required to list all ingredients contained in a product by weight). Oh, and the serving size…13 crisps. I was suckered!
Here’s the scoop…a food label is required on all packaged foods. Understanding the information on food labels can be confusing, but there are a few key things you should always look for when evaluating a food choice.
- Serving Size & Number of Servings per Container – this is where they get us! Oftentimes, what the manufacturer considers a serving and what you consider a serving aren’t even close. I mentioned that the serving size for the crisps is 13. They estimate 6 servings per bag meaning I had eaten at least 3 servings before I even looked at the label.
- Calories – check out the number of calories per serving as that’s what counts most as far as weight management.
- Dietary Fiber – fiber helps keep you feeling full. A food must contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving to be considered “high fiber”. My crisps only have 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- Fat – obviously fat contains more calories than carbs or protein, 9 calories per gram to be exact. Opt for unsaturated fat when you can and stay away from foods with saturated and trans fats (“partially hydrogenated” and “hydrogenated” are keywords that indicate trans fat).
- Sugar – sugar not only adds up in calories, it adds up on the scale. It’s basically empty calories with no nutritional value. Tricky words manufacturers use to hide sugar are “high fructose corn syrup”, “dextrose”, “invert sugar”, “turbinado”. Stick to 5 grams or less of sugar when possible. My crisps had 6 grams.
- % Daily Value – this is the quantity of a nutrient that food provides, per serving, as a percentage of the recommended daily value of that nutrient based on a 2,000 calorie diet. An easy guide in determining how nutrient dense a food product is, consider the following:
- ≥ 20% = high or excellent source
- 10-19% = good source
- 5% = low source
Also, you may or may not consume 2000 calories each day and would need to adjust accordingly. For example, you may only require 1500 calories, which is 75% of the 2000-calorie intake used for the recommended daily values. Instead of aiming to achieve 100% of the daily value, you would try for 75%.
You can see how important it is to not only check out the nutrition facts, but to understand them as well. Were my multi-grain crisps the worst snack I could have eaten? Probably not. Could I have found a healthier, more nutrient dense snack instead? Probably. I would have traded all the sugar and carbs in the crisps for the lesser amount of sugar and carbs in a piece of fruit. Lesson learned.
“How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label”. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 9/7/10 <http://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/consumerinformation/ucm078889.htm>.
Whitney, Ellie, and Rolfes Sharon. Understanding Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008.
“How to Read a Food Label”. WebMD. 9/7/10 .