Nutrition Facts – Ten Tips on How to Read Processed Food Labels

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If you’re health conscious, you keep a close eye on what goes into your body, but you might be missing important facts if you don’t read food labels carefully.

Serving per Container – This is critical information. For example, a 16oz can of vegetarian refried beans contains four ½-cup servings. All the nutrition facts on the label refer to one serving, not the entire can.

Calories, Calories from Fat – Again, these are “amounts per serving.” For those beans, advertised as “98% fat free,” 20 of 130 calories per serving come from fat. That’s 15% not the 2% you might have expected.

% Daily Value* – The asterisk refers to a 2,000-calorie diet. Women, seniors and children typically require far fewer. Athletes in training need far more.

Total Fat – Divide the fat grams (2.5g for the beans) by the grams per serving (128g) to get the fat volume number (2%, or “98% fat free”). But not all fats are equal. Saturated Fat and Trans Fat are “bad fats”; monounsaturated fats, if listed, are good.

Cholesterol – The lower, the better. Zero is best.

Sodium – When salt (sodium chloride) is used as preservative, this number can be quite high. For the beans, it’s 530mg or 22% of your daily value per serving. Low-sodium varieties would be healthier.

Total Carbohydrate – Like fats, carbs can be good or bad. Sugars (2g in the beans) are the enemy; dietary fiber (8g) is the hero.

Protein – Generally, protein is good for you. The beans have 7g per serving. There is no recommended daily value, so no percentage will appear.

Vitamins & Minerals – Only A, C, Calcium and Iron are typically listed. Even if the percentages are zero, there may be trace amounts. A serving of beans will provide 4% of your calcium needs and 10% of your iron.

Ingredients – Avoid monosodium glutamate and chemicals you can’t pronounce, as well as high fructose corn syrup. Potential allergens, such as gluten, lactose or nuts, will be listed. The beans contain canola oil, high in good omega 3 fatty acids and low in bad omega 6. Corn oil would be the opposite.

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