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Stay Safe Fit to Survive How to Use the Nutrition Facts Panel

How to Use the Nutrition Facts Panel

Wondering how to keep track of trans fats? Watching your cholesterol? Counting calories? The easiest way to determine if a processed food or beverage fits into a healthy diet is to read the Nutrition Facts label on the package, where you find the serving size, calorie count, and other key nutrition information.

Serving size is really important, because it can help keep you from overeating. Calories are a measure of how much energy a food or beverage contains. Many Americans consume more calories than they need each day, and this has been linked to the surge in overweight and obesity. The government is considering ways to change the label to make the information about calories clearer.

Always look for foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart disease. (The Food and Drug Administration added trans fat to the Nutrition Facts label this year.) Likewise, choose foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium (also listed on the label), which lessens some of sodiumís effects on blood pressure.

Be mindful of the sugar content of the foods and beverages you consume. While there are no set recommendations on the total amount of sugar to have in a day, sugar contributes calories and few, if any, nutrients.

In addition, look for foods that are rich in dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. These healthful nutrients can help prevent heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. The Nutrition Facts panel lists them all.

Finally, scan the Daily Values (DVs) to determine if a food or drink is a wholesome addition to your diet. DVs are the recommended amount of nutrients based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. If youíre not sure how many calories you consume daily, still use the DVs as a reference point. Five percent or less is considered low for nutrients and 20 percent is considered high.

Some labels also include DVs for a 2,500-calorie a day diet in a footnote at the bottom.

So, when you go grocery shopping, build in some extra time for label reading---itís a key step in maintaining a healthy diet.


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