Food labels tell you the nutrition facts about the foods you buy. You don't
have to do any calculations -- it's all on the package.
Pay particular attention to these items on the label:
- Serving size
- Total carbohydrate
- Dietary fiber
- Total fat
- Saturated fat
Always check the serving size first: the information on the label refers
to this specific serving size but your package may have more than one serving.
If you eat more or less than the specified serving, you need to adjust the
numbers. For example, the serving size for spaghetti is usually 2 ounces (1
cup). If you, like many people, eat 2 cups at a meal, you have to count this
as two servings. This not only affects total calories, but also the grams of
carbohydrate and fat that you just ate.
Check the total carbohydrate next. It is listed in bold letters to
stand out. If you are counting carbohydrate grams, count this amount against
your goal for your meal or snack.
Sugar, other carbohydrates, and dietary fiber are part of the total carbohydrate
listed on the label. Since carbohydrates turn to sugar, the total grams of
carbohydrate affect your blood glucose not only the grams of sugar in the particular
Dietary fiber is listed just below total carbohydrates. Look for whole-grain
foods that are high in fiber. In addition to checking for the word "whole" in
the ingredients, also look for at least 3 to 4 grams of dietary fiber.
The calorie information tells you the number of calories in one serving.
Adjust the number of calories if you eat smaller or larger servings.
Check the total fat in one serving. Pay particular attention to the
amount of saturated fat in one serving. Choose foods that are low in
saturated fat. For example, drink skim milk rather than whole milk. The former
only has a trace of saturated fat while whole milk has 5 grams of saturated
fat per serving. Similarly, 3 ounces of fish has less than 1 gram of saturated
fat while 3 ounces of hamburger has more than 5 grams.
It is important to know that if a food item has less than 0.5 mg of saturated
fat, the manufacturer is allowed to say that there is no saturated fat. This
is especially important to know if you are eating more than one serving at
a time because you may be getting a lot more saturated fat than you realize.
For example, if you eat two servings of a food item that says "0.0 mg of saturated
fat," you may be eating as much as 0.8 mg of saturated fat.
As of January 2006, the Food and Drug Administration will require that trans
fats in a food are listed on the food label. Trans fats are a type of
fat created from a process called hydrogenation in which liquid oils are
transformed into solid fats. These fats raise the LDL-cholesterol (bad) and
lower the HDL-cholesterol (good). They are mostly found in processed and
prepared foods like snack foods and desserts.
When they are included on the label, trans fats will be listed under total
fat. Trans fats are measured in grams. Some manufacturers have already started
to add this to the Nutrition Facts on the label. Look for foods that are low
in trans fats (1 gram or less).
The % Daily Value is listed on the label as a guide. These values are based
on a 2000-calorie diet with percentages for calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate,
sodium and fiber. These goals may not be appropriate for you. Know your own
goals for calories, carbohydrate and saturated fat. A registered dietitian
can individualize your nutrition goals.
Review Date: 5/1/2006
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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