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Published on January 02, 2019

nutrition facts food labels

When Shopping, Dare To Compare

Even as a dietitian and self-proclaimed foodie, I do not enjoy grocery shopping, especially with kids. Although it’s hard to get excited about it, grocery shopping is an important part of our diet and lifestyle. We make on average 250 decisions while filling our carts, so think of that as 250 opportunities to make a better choice. The best tool at our disposal while making these choices? The nutrition facts label.

Out of curiosity I searched online for “bread” on a big box store website and got 2,417 results. No wonder I always buy the same brand and variety. Although it’s easy to be a creature of habit, re-evaluating our pantry staples makes sense. Using the example of bread, here’s what I look for as a dietitian when comparing similar products:

Always Start with the Ingredients List

The shorter and more pronounceable the items there, the better. When looking at grains, make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain, like “whole wheat flour” or “whole grain white wheat flour.”

Figure Out the Serving Size

Am I comparing similar amounts? Is the amount comparable to what I would be eating? In the two breads I compared, one slice of brand A had 26 grams while one slice of brand B had 48 grams – nearly twice as large or dense.

Consider Your Personal Health Goals or Concerns

The importance of many of the nutrients depends on individual health concerns and goals. If diabetes is a concern I would focus on total carbohydrates. Heart failure or high blood pressure, keep the sodium content low when possible. Working on weight, keep the calories under control. Keep in mind that often the “original” version of a product is the best choice. When balancing multiple health concerns or a more challenging health problem, individual nutrition recommendations and counseling are encouraged.

Minimize Added Sugars

When a label says “sugars” it includes both added and natural, but starting in 2021, nutrition facts labels will include a line that reveals how much “added sugars” the product contains. This will make comparing products like yogurt MUCH easier.

Avoid Trans Fats

Make sure the trans fat value is zero. If you have heart problems go a step further and check the ingredient list for the word “hydrogenated,” and if you see it put the product down!

Don’t Let Nutrition Claims Distract You

Stick to the nutrition facts label for comparing products. The overblown claims in large print or inside a big, colorful star on the front are not a good substitute for concentrated comparison on the label.

While I understand no one wants to prolong a trip to the store, taking the time to read the label and make good choices means healthier eating every day.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital. Get more insight on nutrition and health.

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