Do you know what to look for when reading food labels?

By Amy Henry of Venice Nutrition
Sponsor of Atlanta Fatboy

When you are faced with 10,000 or so products in the grocery store, how do you know what is healthy? My rule is less than 5 ingredients, then the product is probably pretty good for you. Over that you begin to get added stuff your body might now know what to do with. Stay away from hydrogenated oil as well as high fructose corn syrup. Pay attention to labels and ingredients and you are on your way to becoming an educated consumer!

Here are some suggestions to look for when choosing products:

Serving size: The food manufacturer often tries to limit the serving size so that the amount of calories or fat will appear smaller, especially in foods such as chips or cookies. For example, they might declare a serving as 1 or 2 cookies or 1 ounce of chips when, in reality, the consumer is likely to consume much more than that.

Servings per container: This lets you know the multiplication factor, should you consume several servings or the entire container or package. For example, an 8-oz bag of potato chips that lists 150 calories per 1-oz serving actually contains 1,200 calories if you eat the whole bag.

Calories: This represents the number of calories in 1 serving. A calorie is a unit of energy or heat that your body generates from the food you eat. If we take in an excess of calories, especially sugar and starches, they are stored in the body as fat.

Total fat: This signifies the total grams of fat in each serving of the food.

Saturated fats:Limit this type of fat, which is found primarily in animal and hydrogenated fats (man made fat created to extend shelf life of products). Saturated fats have been implicated in atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Cholesterol: This is a particular type of animal fat in the product. The total amount in a day should not exceed 300 mg.

Sodium: Processed foods such as crackers, chips, canned soups and packaged meats contain high amounts of sodium. The total amount of sodium to consume in a day should not exceed 2,500 mg.

Total Carbohydrate: Carbohydrates include starches, sugars and dietary fibers.

Dietary fiber: Fiber is important in preventing diseases, stabilizing blood sugar and supporting colon health. The minimal suggested intake is 25-30 grams per day.

Sugars: Sugar content refers to sweeteners added to the product as well as sugars that occur naturally, such as fructose in fruits and lactose in milk. The goal should always be to keep this number as low as possible and make sure to read the ingredients to check for any added sugars.

Protein: Protein is an essential nutrient that comes primarily from animal tissues, and dairy products.

Ingredients: Each product is listed from largest to smallest (by weight). This is where you want to watch out for added sugars (corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, fruit juice concentrate and honey) and artificial ingredients (anything not made in nature and generally difficult to pronounce). Food Manufactures can list each sugar separately to trick you into thinking sugar plays a smaller role in the food. However, if you add all the sugars together in processed foods, many times, SUGAR would be listed as the 1st and largest amount added to the food product.

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