Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How to Decode a Food Label

How to Decode a Food Label
Joy's Healthy Bite

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How to Decode a Food Label
Posted by Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
on Tue, Oct 16, 2007, 7:22 pm PDT

Once you get familiar with all the information on food labels, you can check out the stats on every package you buy. Before long, you'll have a shopping cart full of healthy choices! Here are my top things to look for:

Serving Size and Servings per Container. Look here first. All the other information on the label is based on a single serving, so you need to know the size of a serving and how many servings are contained in the package. You may be surprised. Some packages look small, but they could contain two or more servings.

Calories. If you are watching your weight, watching calories is key. Remember, the number is based on a single serving. If you eat two servings, multiply the calories by two; if you eat three servings, multiply by three; and so on.

Total Fat. This section specifies the amount of total fat in one serving. Based on a 2000-calorie diet, you should aim for no more than 65 grams of fat per day (that's no more than 30% of total calories coming from fat). To convert to calories from fat, multiply by 9. Underneath "total fat," you'll find the amounts for the two most dangerous types of fats - saturated fats and trans fats.

Saturated Fat. It's more important to know how much saturated fat is in a product than total fat. That's because too much saturated fat has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease. The fewer grams of saturated fat, the better! For a product to be considered "low in saturated fat, " it must have 1 gram or less. But most products have much more. Thus, as a general rule of thumb, select prepared entrée meals that are 4 grams of saturated fat or less...and side dishes and snacks that are 2 grams of saturated fat or less. You'll want to be extra careful to keep your collective saturated fat below 7% of your total calories (based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that's no more than 15 grams of saturated fat for the day).

Trans Fat. There is no safe amount of trans fats, so aim to get as few grams per day as possible. Trans fat has been shown to increase bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol (double whammy).

Sodium. This tells you the amount of salt in a single serving. Aim for a daily total under 2,300 milligrams. For a product to be officially considered "low sodium," it must provide no more than 140 milligrams per serving. But some snack foods and most prepared meals have much more. As a general rule of thumb, healthy main meals should provide no more than 600 milligrams sodium and packaged side dishes no more than 400 milligrams.

Dietary fiber. Experts recommend that you get 25 to 35 grams of total fiber daily. Products are considered a good source of fiber when they provide 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving. Products that provide 5+ grams of fiber are officially considered high-fiber foods.

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