Ask any nutrition expert about how to understand whether your food is healthy, and you'll probably hear things like “Have a look at the label!” While it sounds simple, it doesn’t mean it’s as easy as all that.

Nutrition labels and ingredient lists often full of confusing terms and numbers. If you don’t understand the contents, and know exactly what it is that you’re looking for, attempting to make sense of such can be a real challenge.

Here’s the good news - it doesn’t have to be like that. Even though nutrition labels are loaded with indecipherable information, you only need to look for a few things to determine whether a food is ideal for you personally.

1. Calories

You’re likely used to taking a look at the big, bold number of calories first — or perhaps it's the only thing you look at. And while the number undoubtedly counts, where those calories come from might matter even more. A wholesome snack bar may have as many calories as a candy bar, but it’s in the details. The sugar might be lower as well as the fats are healthier. Perhaps it also supplies protein and fiber.

Still, you don’t desire to go mad. The best number will depend on your own individual calorie needs as well as the kind of food you’re looking at. For example, the calorie limit of something like a frozen entrée, would be different compared to the calorie limit of something such as a breakfast cereal. The exception being, snack foods — like energy bars, trail mix, or whole grain crackers. Consuming a lot of calories between meals is a easy way to gain weight. Watch that the label says your snack has less than 200 calories per portion.

 Choose wisely, and ask yourself when you do, what is the nutritional value of an avocado, apple, or whatever you choose to ensure you're developing healthy habits. It all starts with reading the label.

2. Sugars

Natural Sugars

There are naturally occurring sugars in some whole foods such as plain yogurt, milk, or fruit that are essential to a healthy diet. The sugar grams might appear high should you look at the labels on these kinds of foods. But typically, there’s no need to restrict natural sugars unless they’re extremely high, like with some juices.

"Since you’re removing all the fiber from the fruits, you’re essentially focusing all the sugars right into a bottle. So be careful of even healthy-sounding juices, which can have more than 40 grams of natural sugar—way an excessive amount.

Added Sugars

Then there are the sugars that are additional, the type that makers add to cause them to become sweeter. How can you inform the difference involving them both? Extra sugars will undoubtedly be listed in the ingredients, while natural sugars aren't. They are able to go by dozens of names, but some of the very typical offenders are high fructose corn syrup or anything ending in “ose” (like glucose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, and maltose). Food manufacturers often use different types of sugars within their goods, and so the sugars appear lower to the ingredient list, since ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, which can fool consumers into believing that a food doesn’t have that much sugar.

Natural types of added sugar such as molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, or coconut sugar — all count as well! Regardless of where it comes from, added sugar contains the identical variety of calories, and too much can up your risk for diabetes and obesity. When it comes to artificial sweeteners, If they’re zero-calorie, they won’t be recorded included in the complete sugar measured in grams. Further info on why you should stay away from these later.

Choosing packaged goods that have as little sugar added is recommended. While finding a snack or cereal bar without sugar is fairly unrealistic, try to select food that contains fewer grams of sugar than fiber.

3. Fats

Rather than studying the total fat, concentrate on the fats that are bad. Especially, these two:

Trans Fat

With any quantity of trans fat — a results of adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, can increase your risk for heart disease and type-2 diabetes. This makes it that the only actual acceptable number on a nutrition label would be 0 grams. Ideally, make sure the ingredients list is free of trans fat (typically called “partially hydrogenated oils”). To stay within the law, a food is permitted to contain up to .5 grams of trans fat per serving and still list 0 grams for the nutrition info. This means that in the event that you eat more than one you’re getting more trans fats than you might be lead to believe.

Saturated Fat

In foods that are packaged, you want avoid saturated fat and have as little as possible. Even while a number of studies suggest that the items might not be as bad as we used to think, the experts still advise limiting your daily saturated fat to 10 percent of your total calories for the day. It’s suggested that it mainly comes from whole, nutrient-dense foods such as dairy, lean meats, nuts, and seeds — not things like crackers or snack bars.

4. Sodium

Nearly all Americans get way more sodium compared to the recommended amount of 2,300 mg per day. It comes as no surprise that the majority comes from things like packaged foods. By making sure that snack-type foods like granola bars or pretzels have less than 300 milligrams of sodium, and meals canned soup stay below 700 mg, will help to keep the salt levels under control.

5. Fiber

An acceptable quantity of fiber means that your packed food is much more than just empty carbs in fancy packaging. Fiber impedes digestion to assist you stay fuller longer and control spikes in blood sugar. This means that you are less likely to crave junky foods. But there’s no one number for all packaged foods. For instance, a Greek yogurt contains zero fiber, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good for you. 

A daily goal for fiber is ideally between 20 to 35 grams. As a rule of thumb, try aiming for about 4 grams of fiber per serving for grains (such as whole wheat pasta) and at least three grams of fiber per serving for packaged foods or breads.

6. Protein

As it turns out, protein is another factor that can vary substantially with respect to their nutritional needs and each individual. Surprisingly, there's such a thing as eating an excessive amount of protein. While most R.D.'s are hesistant to get specific on the number for meals in general, look for foods or snacks with about five to ten grams of protein, to help keep you content.

7. Carbs

It might come as a surprise, but carbs should make up about 50 percent of your total caloric intake. If you eat around 2,000 calories a day, that's around 250 grams of carbs. Your activity plays a part in determining what your body demands, and its all about balance and caliber of your food options. Not all carbs are equal, and eliminating them entirely can backfire

8. Other Red Flags To Watch For

Check the ingredients list for peculiar additives, even if the nutrition info looks like it’s in good shape. It’s advised to steer clear of any foods containing:

Artificial Preservatives

Specifically, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Both of these preservatives are oil-based and are linked to cancer.

Artificial Food Dyes

Most of these are listed as yellow, or red, blue, followed with a number. They’re made from petroleum, and through testing, there is evidence that they cause cancer in animals.

Artificial Sweeteners

Namely, sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium, are believed to truly have a negative effect on your gut bacteria. There are a few studies that reveal their saccharine flavor could set up you to crave sweet stuff.

Author's Bio: 

With extensive experience in nutrition, my path to health and wellness has allowed me to help many find their own healthy eating regimen.