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How to read food labels

Nutrition - reading food labels; Diabetes - reading food labels; Hypertension - reading food labels; Fats - reading food labels; Cholesterol - reading food labels; Weight loss - reading food labels; Obesity - reading food labels

 

Food labels give you information about the calories, number of servings, and nutrient content of packaged foods. Reading the labels can help you make healthy choices when you shop.

About Food Labels

 

Food labels tell you the nutrition facts about the foods you buy. Use the food labels to help you choose healthier foods.

 

What to Look For

 

Always check the serving size first. All the information on the label is based on the serving size. Many packages contain more than 1 serving.

For example, the serving size for spaghetti is most often 2 ounces (56 grams) uncooked, or 1 cup (0.24 liters) cooked. If you eat 2 cups (0.48 liters) at a meal, you are eating 2 servings. That is 2 times the amount of the calories, fats, and other items listed on the label.

Calorie information tells you the number of calories in 1 serving. Adjust the number of calories if you eat smaller or larger portions. This number helps determine how foods affect your weight.

The total carbs (carbohydrates) are listed in bold letters to stand out and are measured in grams (g). Sugar, starch, and dietary fiber make up the total carbs on the label. Sugar is listed separately. All of these carbs raise your blood sugar.

If you have diabetes and count carbs, use the total carb number.

Dietary fiber is listed just below total carbs. Buy foods with at least 3 to 4 grams of fiber per serving. Whole-grain breads, fruits and vegetables, and beans and legumes are high in fiber.

Check the total fat in 1 serving. Pay special attention to the amount of saturated fat in 1 serving.

Choose foods that are low in saturated fat. For example, drink skim or 1% milk instead of 2% or whole milk. Skim milk has only a trace of saturated fat. Whole milk has 5 grams of this fat per serving.

Fish is much lower in saturated fat than beef. Three ounces (84 grams) of fish has less than 1 gram of this fat. Three ounces (84 grams) of hamburger has more than 5 grams.

If a food has less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat in the serving size on the label, the food maker can say it contains no saturated fat. Remember this if you eat more than 1 serving.

You should also pay attention to trans fats on any food label. These fats raise "bad" cholesterol and lower your "good" cholesterol.

These fats are mostly found in snack foods and desserts. Many fast food restaurants use trans fats for frying.

If a food has these fats, the amount will be listed on the label under total fat. They are measured in grams. Look for foods that have no trans fats or are low in them (1 gram or less).

Sodium is the main ingredient of salt. This number is important for people who are trying to get less salt in their diet. If a label says that a food has 100 mg of sodium, this means it has about 250 mg of salt. You should eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Ask your health care provider if you should have even less.

The % daily value is included on the label as a guide.

The percentage for each item on the label is based on eating 2,000 calories a day. Your goals will be different if you eat more or fewer calories a day. A dietitian or your provider can help you set your own nutrition goals.

 

 

References

Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. December 2015. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf. Accessed September 29, 2016.

Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(25 Pt B):2960-2984. PMID: 24239922 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24239922.

Elijovich F, Weinberger MH, Anderson CA, et al. Salt sensitivity of blood pressure: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2016;68(3):e7-e46. PMID: 27443572 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27443572.

Heimburger DC. Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 213.

Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 46.

 
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    Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats. They are also found in some vegetable oils -- coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils. Eating too much saturated fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. A diet high in saturated fat causes a soft, waxy substance called cholesterol to build up in the arteries. Too much fat also increases the risk of heart disease because of its high calorie content, which increases the chance of becoming obese (another risk factor for heart disease and some types of cancer).

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    Whole grains, like the kind found in whole wheat bread, contain fiber and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. Fiber is a very beneficial nutrient that is found in whole grain products. Fiber helps to reduce the risk for some chronic diseases such as constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. Fiber is also linked to prevent some cancers like colon cancer. Fiber may help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It is also a helpful diet aid, it has no calories and helps keep you full longer.

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    This animation defines normal blood pressure and the measurement of systole and diastole. Structures shown include a front-view of the heart beating, a cut-view of the heart beating, and blood flowing through a small artery.

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    Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats. They are also found in some vegetable oils -- coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils. Eating too much saturated fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. A diet high in saturated fat causes a soft, waxy substance called cholesterol to build up in the arteries. Too much fat also increases the risk of heart disease because of its high calorie content, which increases the chance of becoming obese (another risk factor for heart disease and some types of cancer).

    Food Label Guide for Candy

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  • Food Label Guide for Whole Wheat Bread

    Food Label Guide for Whole Wheat Bread - illustration

    Whole grains, like the kind found in whole wheat bread, contain fiber and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. Fiber is a very beneficial nutrient that is found in whole grain products. Fiber helps to reduce the risk for some chronic diseases such as constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. Fiber is also linked to prevent some cancers like colon cancer. Fiber may help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It is also a helpful diet aid, it has no calories and helps keep you full longer.

    Food Label Guide for Whole Wheat Bread

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A Closer Look

 

Talking to your MD

 

    Self Care

     

    Tests for How to read food labels

     

       

      Review Date: 8/22/2016

      Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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