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Dietitians Dish: Reading nutrition facts

March 29, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 28, 2011 at 10:29 p.m.

Jami Martin

By Jami Martin

Nutrition facts on food product labels can be a wonderful resource to assist with making healthy food selections, and can help put the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans into action.

Pay close attention to the serving size, servings per container and calories. All information on the label is based on one serving. For example, if two servings are consumed all nutrients would be doubled.

Nutrients to limit:

TOTAL FAT: ESPECIALLY SATURATED AND TRANS FATS

Saturated fat: The goal is less than 7 percent per day, which is about 16 grams per day for a 2000-calorie diet.

Trans fat: The goal is less than 2 grams per serving or as low as possible.

A low-fat food is less than 3 grams total fat per serving.

CHOLESTEROL

Present in foods from animal origin and is not found it in plant-based foods, unless added.

Goal is less than 300 milligrams/day.

SODIUM

Choose items with less than 140 milligrams per serving or lower, if possible, to meet recommended guidelines for less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

ADDED SUGAR

Keep consumption as low as possible.

Good rule of thumb: Look at the total grams of carbohydrates. Remember, that the grams of sugar are included in the total carbohydrates. Then review the ingredient list for sugar, corn syrup, sugar cane, honey, etc.

Other nutrients to review on nutrition facts:

TOTAL CARBOHYDRATES

You can use to determine serving size on a healthy eating plan or for diabetic exchange.

15 grams of total carbohydrates is equal to one carbohydrate choice.

On average a woman may need three to four carbohydrate choices per meal and a man may need four to five 4-5 choices.

FIBER (SOLUBLE AND INSOLUBLE)

A food item with at least 2 grams is a good source of fiber.

A food item with at least 5 grams is an excellent source of fiber.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Compare the number of calories with the amounts provided per serving. This can assist with deciding if a food item is worth the calories offered.

The percent daily value is a helpful at-a-glance tool. It is the percent of the recommended daily allowance for a healthy individual that is provided in one serving, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Aim for percent daily value less than or equal to 5 percent if the goal is to keep a nutrient low, as with total fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Look for percent daily value greater than or equal to 20 percent if the goal is to increase a nutrient, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals.

In addition to nutrition facts, the ingredient list can be utilized to identify specifics detail, such as enriched versus whole grain, added or hidden sodium, added refined sugars, etc.

Keep in mind that ingredients are listed from food of highest quantity, to lowest quantity.

Jami Martin is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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