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Label Reading
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Screening Food Labels

Food labels give you a peek into the nutrients individual foods contain. By reading screening labels, you can identify foods that will be great additions to your diet as well as those that might be a problem. Mastering the skill of label reading is important. Labels are found on every food you buy at the grocery store, except fresh produce and meat.

Let's walk through a typical food label. As you read down, look at important sections to read. Here is how to crack the code.

Serving Size: Look at the serving size. This amount is what the label is going to describe. It is not describing the "whole package". And, it may not be describing the amount of this food you will eat. This is important.

Servings per container: Don't be fooled by the package. Just because it looks small doesn't mean it's a single serving. Even small bags of chips can have 1-1/2 to 2 servings. To find out how much you eat, multiply the amount in one serving times the number of servings you eat.

Calories: This is the amount of calories contained in one serving. Multiply the calories in one serving by the number of servings you eat to estimate the amount of calories in your selection.

Fat, Cholesterol, Saturated Fat, Sodium, Carbohydrates and Protein: This middle section tells you the "gram" weight of these nutrients contained in one serving. Use your nutritional profile to see if this is a small or large amount for you. For example, if your Nutritional Profile recommends 65 grams of protein everyday, and one serving of a food you select contains 30 grams of protein, that one serving will contribute almost 50% to your daily protein goal.

% Daily Value: % Daily Value is referring to an "imaginary person's" dietary needs. It may not match the percent of nutrients needed in your diet. It is definitely not based on pregnancy needs. Don't worry about this number in the middle section of the label. It is important for vitamins A and C, and minerals Calcium and Iron, though.

Vitamins and Minerals: In this section, you can get an idea how much Vitamin A, C, Calcium and Iron a food has. While these % numbers are not exactly correct for everyone, they do tell you if a food has a lot or a little of that nutrient. To be called a "good source" of any nutrient, the food must contain at least 10% of that nutrient in one serving. For example, if a serving of milk has 2% Vitamin C and 30% Calcium, you know that milk is a "good source" of Calcium. On the other hand, you'd better look elsewhere for some Vitamin C.

What's missing: There are a few nutrients and food components that you've learned are important that aren't listed on food labels. They are still important in the diet. Don't forget about water, B Vitamins, and phytochemicals. The Food Guide Pyramid is another good tool to help you. You can also screen food labels to identify ingredients that you want to limit or avoid.

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