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All About Food Labels

Ever wonder what you're really eating in that buttery snack cracker, sugary canned fruit, or slice of processed cheese? It's easy to find out. Just read the Nutrition Facts on the product's food label.

What Are the 'Nutrition Facts' on the Food Label?

The Nutrition Facts section is located on the outside of the package and is easy to read. This section of the food label gives you information about specific nutrients in the product, including:

  • Calories
  • Fats
  • Protein
  • Fiber
  • Specific vitamins and minerals

Serving Size: An Important Part of Food Labels

At the top of the Nutrition Facts section, you'll see the serving size (such as 1/2 cup, five crackers, or 10 chips) and servings per container (such as two, four, six). The food label then lists the number of calories, grams of fat, grams of saturated and trans fat, etc., per serving.

These numbers are important, especially if you aim to eat a diet lower in calories and fat. For example, having five Ritz crackers at 80 calories per serving is not bad for a snack. But who eats just five crackers? If you had 15 crackers, you'd consume 240 calories -- which is probably too many, especially for teens who are trying to avoid eating excess calories.

You'll notice different units of measurement on food labels. Many of the nutrients are measured in grams or "g," while others are measured in milligrams or "mg." Some information is given in percentages (%).


Fats and Other Nutrients

Along with calories per serving and calories from fat, the Nutrition Facts gives you the amount of other nutrients and total fat. It then breaks the total fat number down into saturated fat and trans fat -- the unhealthy fats that can increase the risk of heart disease.

For some products, the total fat number is also broken down into polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat, which are healthy fats more beneficial to your health.

Let's look at what these terms mean:

  • Cholesterol is found mainly in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. The cholesterol found in food can increase the cholesterol in your blood, but saturated fats and trans fats have a greater impact than dietary cholesterol.
  • Saturated fat comes primarily from foods of animal origin such as dairy products, meat, butter, cheeses, poultry, and luncheon meats. It is also found in tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil. Choose nonfat or low-fat dairy, lean meats, and skinless poultry to reduce saturated fat intake. Too much saturated fat can raise the cholesterol level in the blood and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Trans fats are formed during the process of "partial hydrogenation," a manufacturing technique that turns liquid oils into partially solid products. These fats can be found in some vegetable shortening, margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods. Eating too many trans fats raises the cholesterol level in the blood.
  • Polyunsaturated fat comes from many plant foods, nuts, seeds, some plant oils (sunflower, corn, soybean), some seafood (herring, salmon, mackerel, halibut), and soybeans. Polyunsaturated fat is a healthy fat and includes heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Monounsaturated fat comes from some plant foods, including olives and olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, and avocados. New research suggests that these fats help reduce your risk of heart disease.

After fats, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein are listed on the food label. These items are followed by specific nutrients in the food, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Last, the food label lists the ingredients in the product.


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