How to Follow a Healthy Diet by Reading Nutrition Labels
Trying to eat healthy but confused about what to avoid? Nutrition labels can help you make smart food choices.
Step 1: Look at serving size Look at the serving size; all numbers on a nutrition label refer to a single serving. You might discover that what you consider a light snack is actually meant to feed four!
TIP: Keep in mind that the calories per serving generally don't include additional ingredients you may need to prepare the item.
Step 2: Weigh the calories Look at the line marked "calories." Limit foods whose "calories from fat" make up more than a third of the total.
Step 3: Chew over the fat Check out the "Total Fat" section. It tells you the number of fat grams in a serving, plus the breakdown of the kinds of fat. Avoid foods that contain trans fats and whose "percent daily value" of saturated fats is higher than 20 percent.
TIP: Percent daily value is based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories. Growing teenagers and athletes often consume more, while women and older people sometimes consume less.
Step 4: Check your cholesterol Check the cholesterol number. Steer clear of a 'percent daily value' higher than 20.
Step 5: Watch your sodium Take stock of the sodium number. The average American ingests 3,500 milligrams of sodium per day – 1,100 more than the recommended limit, putting them at risk of developing high blood pressure. And 75 percent of that sodium comes from processed foods.
TIP: Foods labeled "healthy" cannot exceed 360 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Step 6: Don't sugarcoat it Look at the sugar content. Aim for foods that have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
Step 7: Scan the ingredients list Scan the list of ingredients. Foods are listed in order of quantity, so those first couple of items should be basic staples and whole foods. Look for a short list, not a laundry list of chemicals you can neither identify nor pronounce, which indicates a highly processed food.
Step 8: Look for the good stuff Look for the good stuff – at least two grams of fiber per serving and respectable percentages (20 percent or more) of vitamins and minerals.
FACT: The word "enriched" can be deceiving; it indicates a food that lost many of its original nutrients from being processed.