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Reading Food Labels Helps Weight Loss

The Number-One Calorie-Counting Mistake You're Making

We are pumped to share one of our fave stories from Shape here on FitSugar. This week Shape turns to dietitian Cynthia Sass.

When you walk the aisles of the supermarket, do you grab packages and toss them into your cart, or do you stop to turn a product over and read the label? According to a new study, the latter may help you fend off weight gain.

After collecting information from 25,000 men and women to see who checked nutrition information, researchers found that 58 percent of men frequently or always read labels compared to 74 percent of women, and that habit has a greater impact on women's weight. On average, female label-readers have a body mass index that's 1.48 points lower than nonreaders versus a BMI difference of just 0.12 points for men. For an average woman, that can mean a difference of nearly nine pounds!


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In my private practice, I sometimes meet clients at the grocery store so we can check out labels together. In my experience, it can be a powerful tool — if it's done correctly. One source of confusion for my clients is the reference to 2,000 calories. Take a peek at any label, and you'll see ". . . based on a 2,000-calorie diet." Because of this wording, I've had many clients assume that they should be striving for a daily intake of 2,000 calories, but the truth is that's just a reference number. The Food and Drug Administration had to choose something to provide consumers with perspective, so they selected 2,000 based on the average needs and intakes of both men and women. But that may be above or below your body’s needs.

Find out how many calories you should be eating after the break!

For example, based on this Mayo Clinic calorie-needs calculator, a 30-year-old 5-foot-4-inch woman with an ideal weight of 125 pounds who is somewhat active only needs 1,800 calories a day. And on an inactive day, that number drops to 1,650.

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This difference is key: overestimating your daily needs could lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss, and while being off by 350 calories may not sound like much, it's enough to support an additional 23 to 35 pounds of body weight, depending on how active you are.

For five more potential ways you can be fooled while reading labels, check out my previous blog, including how to decipher a serving size versus a portion size, and the single most important thing to look at first on any package.

What's your take on this topic? Do you always read labels? Does anything about them confuse you? Please share your thoughts on Twitter to @cynthiasass. To get the latest health, fitness, beauty, and fashion news, follow @Shape_Magazine on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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