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How to Read a Nutrition Label

I am so grateful for nutrition labels because they make it so easy to see how healthy a food item is. The only downfall is that I spend so much time reading labels, food shopping takes me twice as long! There are certain aspects of the nutrition label you may look at first, depending on your needs, but all the information is helpful and worth reading. Here are some tips to consider the next time you read a label.

  • Start with the serving size: You need to know the amount of the food the label is giving you information about. It's also helpful to know how many servings are contained in a package. This is where companies can trick you. You might think a bottle of juice contains 150 calories, but if you look at the label, the bottle may contain two servings, so you're really consuming 300 calories.
  • Check calories per serving in relation to the serving size: 100 calories in a one-cup serving is a lot different than 100 calories in a one-tablespoon serving.
  • Total fat: Limit this amount to 56 to 78 grams a day.
  • Saturated fat: No more than 16 grams per day.
  • Trans fat: Consume two or less grams per day. A product may say "0 grams of trans fat," but there still may be .5 grams or less grams. The only way to be sure is to read the ingredients. Steer clear of foods that say "hydrogenated oil."

We're just getting started, so read more.

  • Cholesterol: Stick to less than 300 mg a day.
  • Sodium: Aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of added sodium per day.
  • Total carbs: Look at this number in relation to the list of ingredients. If the number is high but the ingredients include whole wheat and whole grains, it still gets the green light. On the other hand, if you see ingredients such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and this number is high, I'd put that product back on the shelf.
  • Fiber: Women need 25 to 35 grams per day so the higher this number the better.
  • Sugars: Women are urged not to exceed 25 grams of processed sugar a day. Again, check out the ingredients and if you see things like sugar, brown sugar, or corn syrup, limit these foods.
  • Protein: Depending on your activity level, a woman needs between 40 and 60 grams of protein a day.
  • Vitamins: Some labels list the percentage of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, etc. Aim to get 100 percent of these nutrients.
  • Ingredients: This is one of the most important aspects of the label. Look for real food ingredients (you can pronounce), and avoid enriched flour, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, and refined sugars.
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