Six Tips to Reading a Nutrition Label
HealthCentral Editorial Team Sep 27, 2012 (updated Oct 9, 2013)
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Keep an eye on the serving size
The information below the serving size is utterly useless unless you know how many servings are in the package in question. For example: VitaminWater posts 50 calories on their 20 oz bottles. However, each bottle contains 2.5 servings, meaning the entire bottle has 125 calories. Watch out for serving size!
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Percentage of what?
At the right side of each line on a nutrition label is the "percent daily value" of that item, which is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Below 5 percent is low (look for these numbers next to fat, saturated fat, etc.), while above 20 percent is high (look for high numbers next to nutrients such as protein, calcium and vitamins).
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Check out calories
If your goal is weight loss, the only way to do so is to burn more calories than you consume on a daily basis. Keep track of the number of calories you ingest in a day (and remember to check those sneaky serving sizes so you are not unwittingly doubling your calories).
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Fat and all his friends
The next lines on the nutrition label will generally show "Total Fat", "Saturated Fat", "Trans Fats", "Cholesterol" and "Sodium". While it is never a good idea to have too much of any of these items, pay special attention to saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. Attempt to keep them below 5 percent daily value if possible.
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To eat carbs or not to eat carbs?
The Adkins diet really gave carbohydrates a bad name. Let's not forget that according to the USDA we should be getting six servings of grains every day! However, you do need to make sure you have the right kind of carbs; carbs of the whole grain variety are your best bet.
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What's in it (deciphering the ingredients)
Finally, there is the question of what is actually IN your food, which can be found at the bottom of the nutrition facts. Although this may be hard, try to eat only foods with ingredients that you recognize (and can pronounce). Items like "high fructose corn syrup", "thiamine mononitrate", "dough conditioners" and "partially hydrogenated soybean oil" are best avoided.