Limit consumption of nutrients listed toward the top of the label.
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Nutrition labels are a valuable part of any packaged food. These labels are sometimes found on fresh foods as well. Their purpose is to provide you with the product's nutrient information in a convenient way, which helps you make healthy food choices. The nutrient facts are broken down into categories and are based on a daily 2,000-calorie diet. By following a few guidelines, you can compare two food labels and quickly determine the best fit for your diet.1.
Know the serving size information for each food, such as 1 cup or five crackers, before looking at the rest of the label. If the serving size is five crackers, for example, and you eat 10 crackers, you're eating two servings. Since the nutrition information listed on the rest of the label refers to one serving size, calorie and nutrient information can be deceptive if you don't keep size in mind when comparing food labels.
Look at the calorie and fat content of each food. Fat information is given in grams and different types of fats are listed separately. Focus on unsaturated fat and steer clear of products containing saturated or trans fats. Your goal is to keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories -- mostly from unsaturated fat sources.3.
Find the cholesterol content of each food label. Since dietary fat can affect blood cholesterol levels, choosing the item with lower saturated and trans fats is your best choice. Limit your cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams a day. Look at the list of ingredients to identify unhealthy cholesterol and fat ingredients such as lard, hardened fat, palm oil and egg-yolk solids.4.
Check the sodium content on each label. Many packaged foods are high in sodium. According to the National Institutes of Health, the current recommended limit for sodium for the average adult is 2,300 milligrams a day, which equals about one teaspoon of table salt a day. For middle-aged and older adults, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure, a daily sodium intake of 1,500 milligrams or less is advised. Check with your doctor if you have any questions about your specific sodium requirements.5.
Compare each item's total carbohydrate, fiber and sugar content. Like fat and protein information, carbohydrate, sugar and fiber content is given in grams. The food with the highest fiber content is a good choice for anyone and if you're concerned with controlling sugar intake, choose the food with lowest total sugar grams. Check the ingredients list for added sugar disguised under other names like high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, maple syrup and honey.6.
Look at the protein grams on each food item. Although most Americans get sufficient protein in their daily diet, the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein for adults is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.7.
Focus on the label's bottom section, which provides information about the vitamins and minerals contained in the product. Food manufacturers are required to provide information for vitamins A and C and for the minerals calcium and iron -- even if the food product doesn't contain any. Manufacturers can, however, voluntarily provide additional information about other vitamins and minerals.8.
Check out the column on the right side of the label, which indicates the daily value percentages for each nutrient. This column is helpful for a quick food comparison. As a rule of thumb, for those nutrients you want to limit, look for a daily value of 5 percent or less. For desired nutrients, select those foods with 20 percent or higher daily value.9.
Compare the ingredients list on each label. Checking the ingredients provides valuable information because ingredient amounts are listed as first, second, third and so on, according to the amount of the particular ingredient contained in the food product. For example, the food contains more of the first ingredient listed than any of the ingredients listed below it.