One of the things I find incredibly hard about nutrition and health is label reading. First, there are a million 'rules' out there about what you should pay attention to: no more than 25% of calories from fat; fat calories don't matter as long as the protein grams are high; nothing with HFCS or hydrogenated oils; only things with a certain percentage of Vitamins A, C or E. For God's sake can someone come up with the hard and fast rule?
Except, I don't want anyone to come up with a hard and fast rule. What? I like to read my cake label and eat it too.
My primary goal (read: NOT A RULE) is to eat things that don't even have labels. You could go into the canned fruit aisle and concern yourself with sugar added, no sugar added, pears in syrup, peaches in water, the list goes on until you have a head ache. Or you could go buy a pear. This is the better choice because eating a food without a label implies that it is a whole food. Your body is better able to break down whole foods, whole foods have more nutrients blah blah blah.
We all eat food with labels though so lets be honest and break it down. What in the hell are we supposed to do when presented with these long ass labels? Well first, decide what you care about. My body hates me when I eat preservatives. Yellow 5, HFCS, MSG, they all equal head pain and drama for me. I avoid them as best I can but I prefer not to go nuts about it. Occasionally I might eat a potato chip or 20 and I realize its not going to kill me.
Second, decide if you trust it. If you're watching for calories, be aware that the corporation that is selling you the product is legally required to disclose the nutritional information and put it on the label. There has been some evidence recently that labels aren't as truthful as you'd like to believe. This is particularly concerning for diabetics or those allergic to things like peanuts or items found in trace amounts. For example, I'm trying to reduce my soy intake. I just found out my multivitamin has soy in it. I'll live, I'm not thrilled about it but at least I'm aware.
Finally, be aware of the claims on the front of the box. Just because the Toasted Oat Cereal tells you its a good source of calcium doesn't mean you should believe them. In fact, screw the front of the box. The front is designed to get you to pick up the box. It is not designed to tell you the contents. Turn the box over, look at the list of ingredients and the calorie and fat content, if you care. The front of the box is why our foods have well known commercial mascots. Don't let a colorful rabbit or a flying stinging bug tell you what to feed yourself or your family. Instead, let the numbers tell you what to eat.
Or, ignore the whole damn thing and eat what you please. Buy something with a colorful bunny and if you like it eat it again. Figure out your own personal rules and do what makes you happy. I'm just going to be over here in this corner grumbling about big Ag.