How to Spot Wholesome Foods

Scanning nutrition labels is a great way to help you find and make healthier food choices. And it’s estimated that at least 60% of Americans are in fact paying more attention to the numbers on the food packages they buy. [1] But if you don’t know what to look for on the label -- or are only noticing the calories -- chances are, you’re not seeing the complete picture of your favorite eats. Here are five things to keep your eyes on.

Serving Size

The number of servings is listed up top for a very good reason: All of the figures you’ll find on the rest of the panel are based on one portion. So if you’re realistically going to eat more than one serving, be sure to do the appropriate calculations. [2,3] To save time and your sanity, use the calculator on your smartphone, or carry a small one with you to the store.

Fat and Cholesterol

Nutrition panels also highlight some key elements that play a role in your health. The first group you’ll see are the fats -- usually broken down by total, saturated and trans -- followed by cholesterol. Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and as low as possible in trans fats, may reduce the risk of heart disease, so try to limit these items. [2,3,5] Check the bold numbers on the right side of the panel; these are the percentages of your daily value (based on a 2,000-calorie diet) accounted for by the serving size. [2,3]

Sodium

This is another dietary component that many Americans consume too much of. Excessive sodium in your diet may increase your risk of high blood pressure. [6] The recommended daily limit for most men and women is 2,300mg. Yet it’s estimated that most people are consuming closer to 3,400 mg a day. [6] The FDA considers a food to be low in sodium if it contains no more than 140 mg/serving. [3]

Fiber

Whereas many Americans are generally getting too much fat, cholesterol and sodium, many lack such nutrients as dietary fiber. Adults are encouraged to consume 25 g to help support healthy digestion. Foods that are higher in some fibers may also reduce the risk of heart disease. [7] In order to be considered a good source of dietary fiber, 3g of fiber or more per serving is the amount to shoot for. [3]

Vitamins

Don’t forget the vitamins. They may be at the bottom of the label, but vitamins and minerals are major components in any wholesome food. Nutrition labels must list the percentages of the daily value for vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron, but may include other vitamins and minerals to help you ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need.  [1,8]

SOURCES:

1.Ollberding NJWolf RLContento I.

Food label use and its relation to dietary intake among US adults.

J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Aug;110(8):1233-7

http://www.nursingconsult.com/nursing/journals/1499-4046/full-text/PDF/s0002822310005274.pdf?issn=0002-8223&full_text=pdf&pdfName=s0002822310005274.pdf&spid=23487060&article_id=757168

2. US Food and Drug Administration: How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label

http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm

3. American Heart Association: Reading Food Nutrition Labels:

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HeartSmartShopping/Reading-Food-Nutrition-Labels_UCM_300132_Article.jsp

4. ChooseMyPlate.gov

5. American Heart Association: Know Your Fats

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp

6. Mayo Clinic: Sodium

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284

7.  Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiberhttp://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8355

8. Medline Plus: Food Labeling

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002459.htm

by the Publishers of Prevention