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Sneaky tricks nutrition labels pull...and how to see through them

If you’ve ever been confused while reading a food label, you’re not alone. Some foods can seem low in calories, but might sneakily have unhealthy amounts of fat and sugar. Here’s what you should really be looking at when you’re narrowing down your options.

Serving Size
Sometimes a food is so low in calories that it seems too good to be true. Before you assume that your next nosh is good for you, take a look at the serving size and servings per container. For individually packaged foods like oatmeal and microwavable macaroni, a serving size is usually just one package. But watch out for things like chips, which can have a serving size of just a handful! To help yourself stay on track, put snacks like these in plastic baggies so you don’t eat more than you need.

Under the calories section of a food label, there is a subsection labeled calories from fat. Foods will always have more calories than calories from fat, but you should eat more foods that are lower in calories from fat. This is separate from the total fat label, which tells you how many grams of fat are in your food. Not all fats are bad for you, though, so don’t flock to only fat-free snacks. The better thing to do is minimize the amount of saturated fat you eat since this is the kind that can hurt your heart.

Unlike fats, there isn’t a “healthy” kind of sodium, which is the amount of salt in your food. Your body needs sodium to run, but too much of it can cause high blood pressure. A healthy amount of sodium is less than 2,000 mg a day. This can be hard because processed foods are packed with sodium, and they are usually the easiest foods to whip up in a jiffy. If you usually munch on frozen food or frequent the drive-thru, make an effort to add more fresh produce into your diet. You can never have enough fruits and veggies!

Like fats, there are also good and bad carbs, and like sodium, processed foods are usually full of the bad kind. Complex carbs are the good ones, and you can find them in whole grains like pasta and whole wheat bread, or in good starches like potatoes (but not French fries!). Simple carbs are usually stocked in junk food, and all they do is add calories to your diet without any other nutritional value. So limit the chips and cookies!

Protein and Vitamins
Protein is a number you want to be high on your food label since it’s what gives you energy and helps you grow stronger. At this time in your life, it’s especially important to be getting lots of it, so get yours from meat, dairy, soy foods, and beans. The rest of the food label tells you the percent daily value of the vitamins in your meal, so the higher the percentage, the more nutritional value you are getting.

Use these tips to help you out the next time you read a food label, but don’t stress too much about the numbers you’re ingesting. Instead, look at the types of food you are eating and make sure you have balance and good portion size in all your meals. Are your meals made up mostly of fresh and colorful foods that aren’t highly processed? This is what will help you achieve the best balance in  your diet. 

BY RACHEL NUGENT ON 10/15/2013 12:00:00 AM

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