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Q: What are the basics of understanding food labels?

Posted January 01, 2014 in Advice Column, Johnston

A: It can definitely be overwhelming when turning over your favorite box of cereal to see all of these values, percentages, and ingredients. There are a few basic tips you should keep in mind when looking at a food label.

First, check out the serving size and number of servings per package usually listed right under the Nutrition Facts header. This tells you what the serving is, for example, one cup. It also means all of the values listed on the label are for just that serving size. So if you are eating more than that serving, the nutrition you are taking in is different from that listed on the label.

Second, check the calories. Generally 100 calories is moderate and 400 calories is considered high (keep in mind the purpose of the item you are looking at).

Third, try to keep the saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium to a minimum (less than 5 percent of your Daily Value). Consuming a surplus of these nutrients increases your risk of chronic diseases. Fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron are also required to be listed on a label. Strive for daily values as close to 20 percent as possible or higher.

There is a science behind the nutrition facts label, but it’s not necessary to go into grave detail when browsing through the store. Keep these tips in mind to make healthier food choices.

Information provided by Missy Anker, Registered Dietitian, Hy-Vee, 5750 Merle Hay Road, Johnston, 270-9045.

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