I’m a big advocate of buying fresh whole foods and steering clear of packaged goods. Realistically though, many of us will end up with some packaged foods in our kitchen. Reading the label is your best guide to choosing the most healthful options. How can you tell whether one breakfast cereal, for example, is better than another? Here are some tips for checking the Nutrition Facts panel:
1- Check the serving size and servings per container. Serving size is always the first item on the label and tells you how many portions are in the whole box. All other information is based on that serving size.
2- Check the saturated fat and trans fat content of the food. For a general healthful diet, keep saturated fat and cholesterol low and avoid trans fat completely. Look for foods that have 0 grams (g) of trans fat (alias name is “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”) and are lowest in saturated fat and cholesterol.
3-Compare the sodium content to the calories per serving. You’ll want to keep sodium as low as possible. A rule of thumb: choose items in which the sodium content is less than or equal to the calories per serving. For a food with 250 calories per serving, look for a sodium content of no more than 250 mg.
4-Look at the fiber content of the food you’re choosing. Any food with more than 5 g of fiber per serving is a good choice for fiber. Aim for 25 to 35 g of fiber per day in total.
5-Look at the sugar content of the food you’re considering. Steer clear of foods that have sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, corn sugar, fructose, or high-fruc- tose corn syrup among the first three ingredients. Other sugar aliases to watch for include agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, and glucose.
6-Decipher the percent daily value. Located on the Nutrition Facts label, the percent daily value is based on someone who eats exactly 2,000 calories a day. It’s a useful tool to compare the nutritional value of two items quickly (assuming the serving size is the same). As a general rule, when the percent daily value
of a particular nutrient is around 20% or more, that’s considered high in that nutrient. That can be a good thing if it’s fiber we’re talking about, but not so good if it’s sodium or saturated fat.
Remember that the reason fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains don’t have nutritional panels is that they don’t need it! Try to keep packaged foods to about 10% of your diet and eat whole foods 90% of the time. It will reflect greatly in your health!
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