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Nutrition Facts: Glossary and Definitions

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Modified food starch. Extracted from corn, potato, wheat, and other starches, modified food starch is used as a thickener, stabilizer, or fat replacer in foods like dessert mixes, dressings, and confections.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Used as a flavor enhancer, MSG is like salt. Though some people may have a mild reaction after consuming MSG, the FDA recognizes MSG as “generally safe” when “eaten at customary levels.”

Monounsaturated fat. A healthy fat found in foods such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados. When used to replace saturated fats, a diet high in monounsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol. Most of the fat in your diet should be mono- and polyunsaturated. All fats have 9 calories per gram.

Partially hydrogenated.See hydrogenated.

Polyunsaturated fat. A fat found in foods such as walnuts, salmon, and, soybean oil. Polyunsaturated fats provide essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and omega-6s to your diet. Most of the fat you eat should be mono- and polyunsaturated.

Potassium. Essential for life, potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure and keeps your heart and kidneys working normally. Potassium is found in bananas, nuts, potatoes, dairy, and other foods. Adults should aim for 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily.

Saturated fat. Usually solid at room temperature, saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat and milk, as well as in coconut and palm oil. Saturated fat is often used in foods to prevent rancidity and off flavors. No more than 5% to 10% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat.

Serving size. This section of a nutrition label helps you determine the number of calories and amount of each nutrient in a recommended serving of a food. USDA serving sizes are often smaller than you might eat. So read labels carefully. Even small packages often contain more than one serving.

Sodium. While sodium (commonly called salt) is vital for healthy nerves and muscles, most of us get too much salt in our diet, often from processed foods. Read food labels to help keep your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day or less.  Persons 51 and older, African Americans, or people who have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should limit sodium to 1500 milligrams daily.

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