I get very overwhelmed with all of the nutrition claims on packages these days. For example, when at the supermarket I see products that are “low fat”, “low sugar”, “high fiber” etc. It is hard to know what to focus on. What would you recommend I pay most attention to?

Manufacturers put health claims on packages for a few reasons. First, they want to inform the general public of the potential health benefit for consuming their product. Second, they also want to sell a lot of their product, so this can be used as part of an advertising campaign. The FDA regulates health claims on labels and products must contain credible scientific evidence supporting the claim. But this does not remove the confusion on which foods are the best for our overall health.

Recent research published in October’s Journal of Nutrition Reviews discusses this very topic. It was concluded that focusing on whole foods, as opposed to a few individual nutrient values (i.e. fat/carbohydrate content) is the key to eating healthfully. It is easy to get swayed towards buying a tub of ice cream that is a healthy “low fat” version. However, many times people perceive the “low fat” tagline to mean: “eat as much as I want”. They end up eating more than the recommended individual serving size and consume excessive calories and sugar. Likewise, an apple pie may say “sugar free” on the label. But keep in mind that this is not calorie free and may contain additional saturated fat. The overall suggestion is to think of all foods as whole foods, instead of individual nutrients. Focus on increasing intake of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein instead of worrying too much about whether a product is low in fat or sugar.

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