Understanding Food Labels

People look at food labels for a variety of reasons. But whatever the reason, many consumers would like to know how to use this information more effectively and easily. The following label-reading skills are intended to make it easier for you to use the Nutrition Facts labels to make quick, informed food decisions to help you choose a healthy diet. 

Serving size: Check to see how many servings the package contains. The nutrition numbers on the rest of the label are for a single serving. So if you eat two servings, multiply the numbers by two. Now does it look as “healthy” as first represented?

Calories: How many calories are in one serving? If you’re trying to lose weight, tracking your caloric intake is one of the most important. Is that serving size really worth all the calories that come with it or are you getting a good calorie to serving size deal?

Carbohydrates: The total carbohydrates listed on a food label include sugar, complex carbohydrate and fiber, which can all affect blood glucose. Look at the total number of carbohydrates in terms of grams to understand the food’s carbohydrate count. If you have diabetes, talk to your health care provider about the amount of carbohydrates recommended for each meal.

Fiber: Eat at least 5-10 grams of fiber each day. As you increase your fiber intake gradually, also increase the amount of water you drink. This will help prevent constipation. 

Total fat: As a rule of thumb, a low-fat food contains 3 grams of fat or less per serving.

Saturated fat: This number is the key for heart health. Foods with one gram or less per serving are considered low in saturated fat.

Trans fat: For healthy arteries and better overall health, it is best to avoid trans fat. Look for foods with 0 grams of trans fat. Avoid items with hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated fat in processed foods is the main source of trans fats in foods.

Sodium: The average person consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to the American Heart Association, and most of it comes from packaged foods, according to federal dietary guidelines. Those guidelines recommend adults consume no more than 2,300 mg per day – that’s about 1 teaspoon of salt – to avoid hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The AHA, however, recommends most adults limit daily intake to 1,500 mg. So look out for the amount of sodium on the food label.

Keep an eye on the food label when you go out next, and make smart & healthy choices.

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