Look at the Label – Please

Before you tear open that bag of cookies, read the nutrition label on the packaging to find out exactly what you’re eating.

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Every bag, box, and can of packaged food has a nutrition label. The label’s information tells you the ingredients in the food and can help you figure out how much of the food you should consume.

  • Serving Size
    The information on the label is for one serving; which is often not the same as the whole package (the serving size is usually smaller than the total amount of food in the package). The serving size is also not necessarily the amount you should eat.

  • Servings Per Container
    This tells you the number of servings in the package.

  • Calories
    A calorie is a unit of measure for energy. If you consume more calories than your body burns, you’ll gain weight. If you don’t consume enough calories, you’ll lack energy. Tip: 40 calories per serving is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories is high.

  • Total Fat
    Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, some—like unsaturated fats—actually improve your health by reducing the risk of heart disease. Here’s a breakdown of fats that are found in packaged foods:

    • Saturated FatsThese include butter, palm oil, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, and lard. They are found in red meat, many prepared foods, and dairy products like cream, cheese, and ice cream. Foods high in saturated fats are unhealthy.

    • Trans Fats: These come from adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. Foods containing trans fats stay fresh longer, but are not healthy. In fact, trans fats contribute to lowering good-cholesterol levels and raising bad-cholesterol levels.

    • Unsaturated Fats: These are the healthy kind of fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats help lower levels of total cholesterol and bad cholesterol in the blood. Avocados and peanut butter have unsaturated fat.

  • Cholesterol
    This substance is in dairy products and meat. There are two types: high-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol). LDLs are unhealthy because they can form plaque deposits on the walls of your arteries.

  • Sodium
    This mineral helps keep nerves functioning and maintains blood volume in your body. Many people add table salt to their food, but many foods already contain a lot of sodium. Look at the label on this page. If you ate the whole package of food, you would consume 13 percent of the sodium that your body needs for a whole day.

  • Total Carbohydrates
    Certain carbs, like fiber and naturally occurring sugars in fruit and milk, provide your body with the fuel it needs to operate. Fiber, found in whole grains, aids in digestion. It also lowers blood-sugar levels. Consuming too much sugar can cause weight gain. Tip: The healthiest sugar is unrefined raw sugar. The worst? Refined white sugar.

  • Ingredients
    This section lists everything that is not included in the top section. Preservatives are included here. If you have food allergies or are keeping a restricted diet (lactose intolerant, vegetarian, vegan), read this section to determine whether you can eat what’s in the package. Tip: Ingredients are always listed in descending order of weight.

  • % of Daily Value
    These figures shows how much of your daily nutritional needs you’re getting from what you’re eating. The numbers on the label tells you what percentage you’re consuming when you eat one serving of the food in the package. Tip: With fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar, aim to consume less than 100 percent of your daily value each day. For vitamins and minerals, consuming 100 percent is preferable.

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