Top Tips for Healthier Eating

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2. Learn to read food labels.

Nutrition Facts panels are required on the labels of almost all packaged foods in the United States. They are best used to compare similar products, such as two breakfast cereals or two canned soups. At a glance you can see which product has more fiber, sodium, sugar, fat, etc., per serving.

Use the % Daily Value column as a guideline for each nutrient: 0% to 10% is low, 10% to 20% is moderate, and greater than 20% is high. Look for low percentages of fat (especially saturated fat), cholesterol and sodium, and moderate to high values for fiber, vitamins and minerals. A note on trans fat: There is no Daily Value established, and it is best to avoid it altogether. As of January 1, 2021, food labels are required to included added sugars, so you can use the nutrition facts label or the ingredients list to avoid added sugars. In the ingredients list, the items are listed in descending order by weight (from most to least). If sugar or another caloric sweetener such as high-fructose corn syrup is the first or second ingredient in the list, you know the food is high in added sugar.

Keep in mind that all the numbers on the Nutrition Facts are based on one serving, which may be more or less than you eat. If one serving is 1/2 cup of cereal and you eat 1 cup of cereal, you must multiply all of the numbers by two. Beware of misleadingly labeled items, such as a 16-ounce carton of juice that is labeled as two 8-ounce servings even though it is clearly packaged as a “single serving” item.

Originally Published November 5, 2009

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