Ask any expert how to tell if a food is healthy, and you’ll likely hear: “Just read the label!” It may sound simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Nutrition labels and ingredient lists are dizzying displays of numbers and confusing (or downright unrecognizable) terms. So if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, attempting to make sense of them is pretty much on par with bumbling through your college chemistry textbook.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even though nutrition labels are chock-full of information, you really only need to pay attention to a few specific things to determine whether a food is actually good for you. Here’s what they are.
You’re probably used to looking at the big, bold number of calories first—or maybe it’s the only thing you look at, period. And while the number definitely counts, where those calories come from might matter even more. “A healthy snack bar may have as many calories as a candy bar, but the sugar is lower and the fats are healthier, and it provides protein and fiber,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, nutritionist and author of The One One One Diet.
Still, you don’t want to go crazy. The right number will depend on your individual calorie needs and the type of food you’re looking at (the c…