Deciphering the Nutrition Facts chart or the food label on food products can be intimidating, especially if you do not understand what to look for. The first thing to note is that ingredients are listed in descending order of content in the food. Be aware of the first two or three ingredients to make a healthy choice. Here are a few important things to watch for:
Sugars add calories to food without enhancing the nutritional value. Watch for sucrose, fructose, dextrose or corn syrup on the label. Four to 5 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.
They key word here is "whole." Whole grain foods should contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, whether wheat, oat or other whole grains. Cereals, breads and pasta are all offered in whole grain varieties.
Partially Hydrogenated Fats
These oils are the main source of trans fats, which are proven to be harmful to heart health, and should be avoided. If a label lists partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fat. The best fats to consume are polyunsaturated and monosaturated. Look for a healthier alternative in the first two ingredients: canola, corn, safflower, soybean or olive oil.
Be aware of how many servings a package actually contains. What often appears to be a single-serving package actually contains two or more servings, so double the calorie count listed on the Nutrition Facts. Consuming 400 or more calories per serving of a particular food is high.
- Artificial sweeteners: Some studies report that over-consumption of saccharin, aspartame and others can be harmful.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This flavor enhancer has been under debate, but is not proven to be harmful. Some people do have reactions such as headache and flushing after eating food that contain MSG.
- Sodium: Limiting sodium intake is proven to lower blood pressure. Daily sodium intake should be 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day.
While monitoring everything you should not eat, also be aware of the ingredients that will enhance your general health: fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C and D, calcium and iron. Eating a balance diet and limiting the amount of processed food you consume will enhance your general health.