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Buying groceries can be monotonous: when food shoppers are pressed for time (and money), they tend to pick up the same items out of habit. But how often do consumers look at what’s written all over their food? Nutrition labels, ingredient labels and even the overall packaging of the product can say lot about what people willingly put into their bodies. Also Read - Eid-al-Adha 2021: Here Are Sumptuous Recipes to Devour This Bakrid 

Food labels provide key information about the product: Data on calories, sugars, carbohydrates, vitamin content and listed ingredients offer valuable information for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Also Read - World Chocolate Day 2021: Celebrate Chocolate Day With These Lip-Smacking Recipes

Health conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity can be prevented and/or monitored if consumers paid closer attention to packaged food labels. Diagrams shown on the app MyPlate provide a guideline on healthy eating, but food choices are ultimately at the discretion of each individual.

Since 2010, the federal government required restaurants to list calorie content in menu food items to show consumers the importance of what they are eating and encourage them to make more nutritious decisions. Reading and understanding food labels is the first step in the process of developing a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Here are five essential tips to follow when it comes to reading labels: 

1. Avoid hard to pronounce or unrecognizable ingredients

Acclaimed journalist, professor and author of “In Defense of Food” Michael Pollan discusses the importance of food labels. “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Next time you see something like BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE under the listed ingredients, think about whether or not you know what it is.

2. Always look at the first ingredient

The federal Food and Drug Administration requires nutrition labels to list all ingredients in descending order according to predominance of weight. The first ingredient in a loaf of bread should not be sugar. It’s okay if all the ingredients listed are not the healthiest, but make sure it’s not the first ingredient.

3. Less is more

The fewer ingredients in your food, the better it probably is for your health. This is a general rule of thumb to keep in mind when purchasing packaged goods. A longer list of ingredients could mean the amount of fillers, preservatives and binders is higher. These make the product last longer, but at a detriment to your health.

4. Check the serving size

How many times have you turned over a grocery item, saw it had 100 calories, rejoiced and ate the entire thing? We have all been guilty of eating more than the suggested serving size. As we get older and our bodies have more difficulty digesting certain foods and starches, portion control is a must. Checking the serving size becomes crucial, especially when dieting or calorie counting to shed those extra pounds.

5. Reconsider foods with excessive branding on the labels

When Dunkin’ Donuts advertises donuts as having “0 Trans Fat,” something is up. Donuts are clearly not healthy, yet companies are hopping on the health-labeling bandwagon in an effort to sell more products and appear healthier than they are.

In an interview with NPR, Pollan said, “The reason I concluded that health claims (excessive labeling) should be essentially avoided is by looking at the kinds of products that carry them. Fruits and vegetables, they don’t have the budget, they don’t have the packaging. The healthiest food is silent.”

Checking labels on food products might mean spending more time at the grocery store, but it is worth investing a handful of minutes to learn more about the foods we consume.