Look at many products in the supermarket, and their packaging may make them appear healthier than they really are. So what are shoppers to do to make healthy choices for themselves and their families? Learn how to read the nutrition facts label. To get you started, here’s a breakdown of the label including what’s important and what numbers you really don’t need to worry about.
Serving size: This is the amount of the food you need to eat to get the nutrients listed below it on the label. Make sure to read this number carefully. Pre-packaged items that appear to be a single serving may in fact contain two or more servings.
Calories: An appropriate range for a snack is about 100-250 calories; for a meal, between 300-600 calories, or a bit more.
Total fat: This number isn’t that important. What is more important is the type of fat that a product contains (see below). In general, though, you should aim for less than 50-60 g total fat per day.
Saturated fat: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest we get no more than 10% of our calories from saturated fat, 7% if you have heart disease. Aim for 15-20 grams per day.
Trans fat: Trans fat increases your bad LDL cholesterol and may also lower good HDL cholesterol. Try to get zero or as little trans fat as possible in your diet.
Cholesterol: Research shows that cholesterol doesn’t raise LDL as once was thought. Recommendations suggest limiting dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day.
Sodium: Individuals should get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily (equivalent to about 1 tsp. of salt). 50 mg in a serving of Hint of Salt Triscuits makes this a good snack choice, but 800 mg or more in a single-serving frozen dinner can quickly send you over the recommended daily intake. Aim for less than 600 mg per meal and 200 mg per snack.
Total Carbohydrates: The recommended amount of carbohydrates vary by person, activity level, and weight goals. If you have diabetes, it is especially important to keep in carb counts in perspective when reading labels. For your personal carb goals, contact a dietitian.
Fiber: Fiber is mostly found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Look for about 3-5 grams of fiber per serving, and read the ingredients list to make sure it is naturally occurring fiber, not added fibers such as inulin or chicory root.
Sugar: The American Heart Association suggests limiting added sugars to 25 grams per day for women and 37 grams per day for men. Nutrition labels don’t separate naturally occurring sugars from added ones, so be sure to check the ingredients list to know where they are coming from.
Here’s to savvy shopping,
The well4life Team
A holistic and comprehensive approach to weight loss and healthy living, the well4life program at Saint Agnes Hospital provides medical oversight, your own personal health coach, educational and fitness classes, support groups, a web companion and more. Start now to create your own success story!
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