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How to Read Food Labels: Tips to Make Healthy Decisions
- Learning how to read food labels is essential to eating a healthy diet
- Food labeling includes lists of nutrients, serving sizes, and calories
- Keep the amount of some nutrients to a minimum
If you are trying to eat a healthy diet or if you need to limit your intake of certain nutrients for your health, you need to learn how to read food labels so you can make smart choices at the supermarket. Below are some explanations of the main parts of these labels.
Parts of the Label
The first part of learning how to read food labels is to understand the different parts. At the top of the label is the serving information. You’ll see both the serving suggestion and the number of servings in the box. This is important information. All of the information below this section is going to be based on the basic serving size listed at the top.
Next, you’ll find the calorie information. The number of calories listed is for the serving size listed above. If you eat a double serving, you’re going to be taking in twice as many calories. Another factor here is the amount of those calories that are derived from the fat content of the food.
The largest chunk of most food labeling lists the amount of different nutrients found in the food. These nutrients include some key vitamins, cholesterol, fat, carbohydrates, protein, and sodium. If you need to limit something in your diet, you’ll probably find this section to be the most important.
On larger packages, the food labeling may also include a footnote. The footnote acts like a reminder to tell consumers how much of each nutrient they would need on diets of either 2,000 or 2,500 calories. This is not meant to take the place of advice from your physician or nutritionist but to provide some basic guidelines for healthy adults.
Using the Labels
When you’re looking at the label, your next challenge is probably determining whether or not the quantity of calories or nutrients is acceptable or not. This means you need to come to the supermarket with some pre-existing knowledge about what is healthy and what is not healthy. First, you want to look at the calories. If you’re on a diet, you may be counting calories. Because you are limited in how many calories you can take in, you want to choose foods with the lowest calorie numbers possible. However, you also want to check the serving sizes, too. If you know you’ll be eating two serving sizes, go ahead and double the calories. You need to be realistic.
Another section lists the amount of cholesterol the food contains. You want to keep the amount you take in to a minimum. If you’re healthy, you don’t want to eat more than 300 mg per day. If you have heart disease or are at high risk of developing heart disease, keep your intake to below 200 mg daily.
Sodium is another nutrient often overlooked. Consuming too much sodium can cause your blood pressure to go up and can lead to water retention. Most people should eat less than 2,300 mg but if you’re on a low sodium diet you might want to keep that amount below 1,500 mg.
The only nutrients listed that you want to be high are the vitamins and the dietary fiber. Keep in mind that you need about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you take in. That means if you’re on a 1,500 calorie diet, you need at least 21 grams of fiber each day.
And remember there’s nothing wrong with bringing along a cheat sheet of these limits when you’re doing your shopping.
The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.
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