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The 9 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid When Reading a Food Label


Nutrients

Fat, Sugar, Sodium and Carbohydrate

The sections on a food label shows the name of a nutrient and theamount of that nutrient provided by one serving of food. You mayneed to know this information, especially if you have high bloodpressure, diabetes or are eating a diet that restricts certainnutrients such as sodium or carbohydrates.

Food labels also include information about how much sugar andprotein is in the food. If you are following a low-sugar diet oryou're monitoring your protein intake, it's easy to spot how muchof those nutrients are contained in one serving.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Information

The light purple part of the label lists nutrients, vitamins andminerals in the food and their percent daily values. Try toaverage 100% DV every day for vitamins A and C, calcium, iron andfiber. Do the opposite with fat, saturated fat, sodium andcholesterol. Try to eat less than 100% DV of these.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Reading a Food Label

Until you become accustomed to reading food labels, it's easy tobecome confused. Avoid these common mistakes when readinglabels:

-A label may say that the food is reduced fat or reduced sodium.That means that the amount of fat or sodium has been reduced by25% from the original product. It doesn't mean, however, that thefood is low in fat or sodium. For example, if a can of souporiginally had 1,000 milligrams of sodium, the reduced sodiumproduct would still be a high-sodium food.

-Don't confuse the % DV for fat with the percentage of caloriesfrom fat. If the % DV is 15% that doesn't mean that 15% of thecalories comes from fat. Rather, it means that you're using up15% of all the fat you need for a day with one serving (based ona meal plan of 2,000 calories per day).

-Don't make the mistake of assuming that the amount of sugar on alabel means that the sugar has been added. For example, milknaturally has sugar, which is called lactose. But that doesn'tmean you should stop drinking milk because milk is full of otherimportant nutrients including calcium.

Reading Label Lingo

In addition to requiring that packaged foods contain a NutritionFacts label, the FDA also regulates the use of phrases and termsused on the product packaging. Here's a list of common phrasesyou may see on your food packaging and what they actually mean.

No fat or fat free - Contains less than 1/2 gram of fat perserving Lower or reduced fat: Contains at least 25 percent lessper serving than the reference food. (An example might be reducedfat cream cheese, which would have at least 25 percent less fatthan original cream cheese.)

Low fat - Contains less than 3 grams of fat per serving.

Lite - Contains 1/3 the calories or 1/2 the fat per serving ofthe original version or a similar product.

No calories or calorie free - Contains less than 5 calories perserving.

Low calories - Contains 1/3 the calories of the original versionor a similar product.

Sugar free - Contains less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving.

Reduced sugar - at least 25% less sugar per serving than thereference food.

No preservatives - Contains no preservatives (chemical ornatural).

No preservatives added - Contains no added chemicals to preservethe product. Some of these products may contain naturalpreservatives.

Low sodium - Contains less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving.

No salt or salt free - Contains less than 5 mgs of sodium perserving.

High fiber - 5 g or more per serving (Foods making high-fiberclaims must meet the definition for low fat, or the level oftotal fat must appear next to the high-fiber claim).

Good source of fiber - 2.5 g to 4.9 g. per serving.

More or added fiber - Contains at least 2.5 g more per servingthan the reference food.

With a little practice, you will be able to put your new foundknowledge about food labeling to work. Reassess your diet anddecide what needs to be changed. Start by eliminating the foodsthat don't measure-up to your nutritional wants and needs, andreplacing them with more nutritional substitutes.

And while you're at it, visit the FDA website and learn about thenew labeling requirements, including those for "trans" fat. Likesaturated fats, trans fats can raise levels of low-densitylipoproteins (LDL) and increase your risk of heart disease. The"Nutrition Facts" panel on food packaging must provide thisinformation beginning January 1, 2006, but most manufacturerswill start providing it sooner.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to medically diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any health care program.

Emily Clark is editor at Lifestyle Health News and Medical Health News where you can find the most up-to-date advice and information on many medical, health and lifestyle topics.


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