Secrets From Inside Nutrition Facts Labels
How to use nutrition facts on packaged food for your diet and health.
Sodium: Beware of Too Much Salt
The nutrient label singles out facts on sodium, or salt, for good reason.
Too much can increase the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) -- one of
the leading causes of heart disease. Studies show that the lower an
individual's salt intake, the lower the risk of developing hypertension.
Consuming enough potassium also helps keep blood pressure down.
Look for packaged foods that contain 5% or less of the daily value of
sodium. When choosing canned foods, rinsing the liquid off the food can help
lower the sodium content.
Sugars: Watch for Empty Calories
Many packaged foods include sugars in a variety of forms, which can add up
to a lot of calories and not much nutrition.
"This item on the label is useful because it combines all the
different forms of sugar that may appear in food, from refined sugar to honey
and fructose," says McCulloch. Remember: 4 to 5 grams of sugar is the
equivalent of a level teaspoon of sugar.
Vitamins and Minerals: Useful Facts to Track
The label facts list vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. If you eat plenty
of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products -- or if you
take a multivitamin -- you probably don't need to worry about these numbers. If
you're trying to get more calcium, look for foods with at least 20% of daily
Use Nutrition Labels to Help Set Your Priorities
Because it's easy to feel overwhelmed, determine which information is most
important to you. If weight is a problem, total calories are a priority, for
example. If not, you don't need to worry about them.
"If you have high blood pressure or a family history of hypertension,
zero in on sodium levels," says Goldberg. Be especially alert to the
information on nutrition panels when you're shopping for a new item. "That
way you can compare a variety of brands and make the best choice for your own
requirements," says Goldberg.
Will label reading really make you healthier? Studies show that people who
pay attention to nutrition labels do tend to eat lower-fat diets and get more
fiber and iron.