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I want to eat healthier, but I find reading nutrition labels on food packaging very confusing. Help!

By: Winnie Yu

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Reading nutrition labels is essential to making healthier food choices, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and the author of Read It Before You Eat It. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand what to look for:

Start by looking at the calories, which tell you how much energy you’ll get from a serving. Eating too many calories a day can lead to obesity, so figure out your daily needs depending on how active your lifestyle is. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, the FDA has given the following general guide to calories when you look at a nutrition label:

  • 40 calories is low
  • 100 calories is moderate
  • 400 calories or more is high

It’s also important to look at the serving size, so you know exactly how much of the food gives you that many calories. For example, a food label that reads 100 calories might seem OK at first glance, but if the package contains five servings, you’ll be consuming a whopping 500 calories if you eat the whole thing.

Next, check the sugar content. The label won’t differentiate between natural and added sugars, but foods with natural sugars, like milk, are OK -- and are likely to have other important nutrients too, such as calcium. For healthy teeth, limit foods that have added sugars. You can spot these sugars in the ingredients list as “syrup” or “sweetener” and words that end in “-ose.” Be especially wary of foods with high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to diabetes.

Also look at the fat content. Not all fat is bad, so don’t immediately steer clear of foods that have a high fat content. Instead, look at the type of fat included: Avoid foods that contain trans fats (manmade fats that promote heart disease) and limit those high in saturated fat (animal fat). When it comes to nonfat foods, be sure to check the sodium, since many of these foods are laden with salt to make up for the lack of fat. In general, a good sodium level for all foods is 140 mg or less per serving.

Finally, fiber promotes healthy digestion. Because it helps you absorb nutrients slower, it makes you feel fuller longer. The FDA recommends you consume 25 g of fiber a day.  

Bonus: For healthy gums, look for foods that contain vitamin C.

Read more about: Lifestyle, Health, Oral Care, Food

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Winnie Yu

is Completely You’s mom blogger. She has two daughters (Samantha, 14, and Annie, 12) and is the author of seven books, including New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding and What to Eat for What Ails You. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Woman’s Day, AARP Bulletin, Prevention and WebMD.com.

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