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How to Read a Food Label

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Sugar Alcohols

You may see these reduced-calorie sweeteners (which include sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol) in products labeled “no sugar added” or “sugar free.” They have fewer calories than “real” sugars, and they don't contain the kind of alcohol you drink.

Your body doesn't absorb sugar alcohols completely. If you’re sticking to a certain amount of carbs each day, you can estimate that you'll absorb half of the sugar alcohol grams.

 

Fiber

You get fiber from whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and other plant foods. It helps you feel full and slows down the rise of blood sugar. If you have diabetes and are counting carbs, you can subtract this number from the “Total Carbohydrate.”

Men should get 38 grams of fiber each day. Women should get at least 25 grams of fiber per day, or 30 if you are on the DASH diet or have high blood pressure. Most people get only about half that amount of fiber. When adding more fiber to your diet, it's a good idea to do it gradually so your digestive system has time to adjust.

 

Fat and Cholesterol

Saturated and trans fats make heart disease more likely. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthier choices, since they actually lower or don't affect cholesterol levels. Follow the guidelines your doctor gave you about how much and which types of fat are OK for you. A registered dietitian can give you more information and ideas for meals and snacks that fit those guidelines.

 

Sodium

Many people get far too much salt, or sodium. Most of it is in packaged foods and restaurant items. Limit salt to 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon) daily. If you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, or are African-American or older than 51, your daily limit is lower: 1,500 milligrams.

 

Protein

Protein should make up about 10% to 35% of your total daily calories. If you have kidney problems, you may need less. Ask your doctor about that and follow their advice. Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, or low-fat dairy products.

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