Nutrition Facts 101

Serving Size
Your label reading adventure should always start here. The rest of the info on the label pertains directly to this number. If you eat more than one, you’ll need to multiply all of the nutrients by the number of servings you actually consume.

Fat
Instead of focusing on total fat, hone in on eliminating trans fat and limiting saturated fat to 16-20g per day. A diet high in saturated and trans fat will inevitably raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. Is “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil listed in the ingredients? Yeah, that’s trans fat.

Sugars 
Sugars should be kept at a minimum: 24 grams per day max for women and 36 grams per day max for men, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Unfortunately, labels don’t separate natural sugars from added sugars, so you’ll have to check the ingredients. Common disguises include high fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, and dextrose.

Ingredients
These are listed in order of greatest amount to least. A good rule of thumb? The fewer, the better—particularly when it comes to the ones you can’t pronounce.

Calories
Forty calories per serving is considered “low,” and 400 calories and beyond is “high,” according to the American Heart Association. Pay attention to calories, but don’t let them be your sole focus. Certain foods will offer far fewer nutrients than their caloric equivalents.

Sodium
The average American gets 3,436mg of sodium a day, rather than the suggested 1,500-2,400mg. When judging an item’s sodium content, shoot for a 1:1 ratio: the number of milligrams per serving should be equal to or less than the number of calories.

Fiber
Most adults aren’t getting their recommended daily amount of fiber, which works to digest food and promote healthy bowel function. A food is considered fiber-rich if it contains five or more grams per serving. Shoot for at least three or more grams when buying bread or cereal.

Vitamins and Minerals

 

Foods with 20% or higher daily value of a certain nutrient can be considered a good source. Pay particular attention to vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, which are listed first. The FDA says most Americans don’t get enough in their diets.

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