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Teen Health

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All About Food Labels

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.


What Are 'Daily Values' on a Food Label?

To the right of the "Nutrition Facts" are the Daily Value percentages. The Percent (%) Daily Value indicates how much of a certain nutrient one serving of the food contains, compared to the recommended amount of that nutrient you should have for the entire day.

The percentages next to each nutrient -- such as fat, sodium, fiber, protein -- can help you determine whether a food is "high" or "low" in that nutrient. And 5% or less is considered to be "low," while 20% or higher is "high." For example, the Dietary Fiber is 0%, or "low," in Ritz crackers.

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