COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Grocery shopping -- we often grab our items, throw them in the cart, and head for checkout, without ever looking at the labels on the packaging. A recent study shows that could be a reason many of us struggle with weight problems. Deciphering the sometimes misleading or confusing information on our food packaging can be a problem in itself.
A recent study of data from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention showed women who consider food labels when selecting groceries weigh nearly nine pounds less than women who don't read labels. Men who read food labels are also thinner than those who don't, according to the study.
Whether you read the labels is only part of the issue, says dietitian Kristen Tice, owner of Elite Nutrition & Performance. According to Tice, many people are mislead by food packaging and labels that look healthy while nutritional value in the food itself is low.
"There is no regulation surrounding the word natural or really any of the words that food manufacturers will use on their product labels -- on the front, at least," said Tice. "And so food manufacturers will kind of trick you into thinking that their food product is really healthy and really worth the money, when in actuality it's really not."
While the promotional wording on the front of the package may be untrustworthy, the nutrition facts label and ingredients list are regulated by law. If you know what to look for, they can be a quick and easy way to make informed food choices.
"If you're going to be buying bread, for example, you want to make sure that you're buying 100% whole wheat bread," said Tice. "They always list the ingredients as the most abundant followed by the least abundant. The first ingredient: you always want it to be 100% whole wheat."
Tice advises staying away from breads with enriched, unbromated or bleached flour as the first ingredient, even if the packaging looks healthy or has words like "Multigrain."
Andy you'll understand nutrition facts better if you judge them based on the ingredients list.
"Just by looking at the grams of sugar is really not the same thing as knowing if it's natural sugar or added sugar," said Tice. "So if you see that there are several grams of sugar in a slice of bread, make sure you're looking at the ingredient list and you're looking for sugar listed [there]."
If there is no sugar in the ingredients list, that means the grams in the nutrition facts label are natural and better for you.
Finally, to really know what you are serving yourself each day, it helps to do a little math.
"For only a quarter cup of granola, you're getting 130 calories, plus you're getting 3.5 grams of fat," said Tice. "So if you multiply that by four, that's what you're getting out of one cup of cereal, which is a lot of fat [14g], and it's a lot of calories [520 cal.]."
But if you hate math and still want to be healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables are the way to go. They are a single-ingredient food chock full of vitamins and fiber and low in calories.