Understanding Food Labels: What to Look For

Savvy mall shoppers always check the label to make sure they are getting the right size and the best materials for their clothing. Shouldn’t the food you eat get the same treatment? Checking food labels is extremely important to maintaining a healthy diet. During National Nutrition Month this March, make it a point to read food labels to find important information that will help you make smart and healthy choices about what your family eats.@Glowimages MON017184.

What types of information can be found on food labels?
All of the detailed information found on food labels can seem hard understand at first so focus on key elements.

1. Serving Size: The calories and nutrients you consume depend entirely on the serving size determined on each label. Beware of packaged foods that actually contain two servings. If you eat more than one serving, you have to adjust the other values accordingly. Once you know what a serving size it, you can estimate how much you are eating.

2. Percent Daily Value: Pay attention to the Percent Daily Value of each item below:

  • Calories
  • Sodium
  • Cholesterol
  • Fat
  • Sugar
  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Protein
  • Vitamins & Minerals

3. Ingredients: The ingredients are listed in order of predominance on every package. Keep track of possible allergens, various preservatives and artificial sweeteners.

What should a nutritious food label look like?

  • Most daily value percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Only eat enough of the food to meet your desired calorie intake. Avoid foods that are high in calories but low in other nutrients as they will be empty calories.  Choose foods with fewer “calories from fat” listed on the label.
  • Choose foods considered “low sodium” with 140 milligrams or less of sodium for best health.
  • Choose low fat and low cholesterol foods by looking for less than 3 grams of fat and fewer than 20 milligrams of cholesterol. Look for foods with very little saturated fat.
  • The American Heart Association suggests less than 25 grams of sugar throughout your day, so keep track and aim for foods with lower sugar levels.
  • Other nutrients to look for include healthy protein, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamin A, C, D, and others.
  • Good sources of fiber will have 2.5 grams of fiber or more; high fiber foods have 5 grams or more.
  • If the food says “reduced” or “less” compared to the regular version of the food, it has 25% less of the specific nutrient.
  • Always read the ingredients, especially if you or a family member has any food allergies. You might be surprised by the ingredients that go into your favorite foods.

Medical Center Arlington encourages you to look at labels before you buy. Make smart and healthy choices about all the foods you put into your body. Learn more about reading nutrition labels on our website including sample labels. If you would like a physician referral so that you can discuss your nutritional needs with a medical professional, please call 1-855-868-6262.

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