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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Good, Bad and Ugly--Reading Food Labels Can Help You Recognize Each One

It seems everyone today is interested in reading labels on food to see what it contains. That's a good thing. This hasn't always been the case. In fact, it only began in 1990 when the U.S. government required it through the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). It started with information on the ingredients, serving sizes and nutrition. Now it includes information on saturated fat and cholesterol, trans fat, calories, sodium, sugar, potassium, and fiber, just to name a few. Grocery stores are now clogged with shoppers standing in the aisles reading everything on cans, boxes and packages of food. All that information can be confusing.

Here's a simple way to find the most important information quickly on food labels.

Look for the Good
More is better when it comes to vitamins A, B, C, calcium and iron. Each one will be listed on food labels with the total grams and daily percentage of each that is contained in the food product. Twenty percent or more is good for bodies. Fiber is also good for the body. Fiber content should be 5 percent or above.

Recognize the Bad
Less is better when it comes to ingredients that are not good for the body, such as calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugar and cholesterol. For most people, 2000 calories a day is enough.
A little sodium (2,300 mg a day) is needed for the body to function properly, but too much can cause your body to retain fluid and increase blood pressure. Too much fat and cholesterol leads to cardiovascular disease, and too much sugar leads to obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Watch out for the Ugly
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. Although it is allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some people have adverse reactions from MSG, such as headache, rapid heart beat, nausea, and chest pain. If this is the case, look for it and avoid it.

Watch the Serving Sizes
Label information is based on serving size. If a serving size is two cookies and you eat four cookies, the ingredients double. That may be good for the vitamins, calcium and iron but it is bad for fat, sodium, sugar and calories.

Percent Daily Value
This is an easy guide for monitoring food intake. It appears at the right of the label, showing each nutrient as a percentage of daily total. It appears again at the bottom as a guide  to how many grams are recommended per nutrient per day.based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

You don't have to be a chemist to understand food labels. Just start reading. After a while, you'll get the hang of it. You will probably be amazed at what you have been eating in the past. From this point, it is just a matter of monitoring food ingredients on an ongoing basis for better health.

DISCLAIMER: The content or opinions expressed on this web site are not to be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or medical practictioner before utilizing any suggestions on this web site.