Making Sense of Nutrition Labels

What you need to know when making healthful food choices is right on the nutrition facts label.


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  1. Serving Size
    This is the first thing you see on a label, but often overlooked. Every bit of data that follows is based on a single serving. Even individually wrapped foods may contain two or three servings.
  2. Calories
    For most women, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends about 2,000 calories a day. For snacks, stick to foods with fewer than 200 calories per serving.
  3. Fats
    Watch for saturated and trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol and lower the good stuff. Buy foods with no more than 3 grams per serving of saturated fat and 0 g per serving of trans fat.
  4. Sodium
    To keep your blood pressure in check, take in no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. Stick to snack foods with no more than 500 mg per serving. At meals, a bit more salt is fine.
  5. Dietary Fiber
    In the grocery aisles, look for 3 g to 5 g of dietary fiber per serving for breads and other grain products. You'll need at least that much to get the 25 g to 35 g of dietary fiber you need daily.
  6. Sugars
    There's no real agreement on how much sugar is too much. Best advice: Limit foods with lots of added sugars. To do that, you'll have to read the ingredients list.
  7. Ingredients
    In general, a shorter list is better. Shorter typically means fewer artificial ingredients (except where a product has numerous added vitamins). On longer lists, look at the top three to five ingredients to tell the true tale about what you are eating -- manufacturers are required to list ingredients in order of weight.
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