When making better food choices for you and your family, it may not always be clear when roaming grocery aisles. When you pick up a box of cereal or can of vegetables, you’ll find a nutrition facts label on the package. You may not think to read all those tiny numbers; but taking a few minutes to understand them can do your health a lot of good. Here’s a quick look at what you need to check out before putting that package in your grocery cart:
Serving size. Check to see how many servings the package contains. The nutrition numbers on the rest of the label are for a single serving. So if you eat two servings, multiply the numbers by two. Now does it look as “healthy” as first represented?
Fiber. Eat at least 5-10 grams of viscous fiber each day. As you increase your fiber intake gradually, also increase the amount of water you drink. This will help prevent constipation. Get 20-30 grams of dietary fiber per day. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dried beans are good sources of fiber. Aim for five cups of fruits and vegetables per day. Have three ounces of whole grain foods every day.
Protein. Plan to eat more plant-based meals, using beans and soy foods for protein.
Calories. How many calories are in one serving? If you’re trying to lose weight, tracking your caloric intake is important. Is that serving size really worth all the calories that come with it or are you getting a good calorie to serving size deal?
Carbohydrates. The total carbohydrates listed on a food label include sugar, complex carbohydrate and fiber, which can all affect blood glucose. Look at the total number of carbohydrates in terms of grams to understand the food’s carbohydrate count. If you have diabetes, talk to your health care provider about the amount of carbohydrates recommended for each meal.
Total fat. As a rule of thumb, a low-fat food contains three grams of fat or less per serving.
Saturated fat. This number is key for heart health. Foods with one gram or less per serving are considered low in saturated fat.
Trans fat. For healthy arteries and better overall health it is best to avoid trans fat. Look for foods with 0 grams of trans fat. Avoid items with hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated fat in processed foods is the main source of trans fats in foods.
Cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests keeping your daily total intake to less than 200 milligrams (mg).
Sodium. The average person consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to the AHA, and most of it comes from packaged foods, according to federal dietary guidelines. Those guidelines recommend adults consume no more than 2,300 mg per day - that's about 1 teaspoon of salt - to avoid hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The AHA, however, recommends most adults limit daily intack to 1,500 mg.
This video from Utica Park Clinic walks you through reading food labels to make an informed food choices.