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Protect Your Heart: Check Food Labels

Have you ever bought a food because the package said the item was “low-sodium” or “low fat” or made some other claim?

Well, it is important to understand what these claims mean so you can make smart decisions about the food you buy for yourself and your family. In today’s last article on protect Your Heart, I will share with you how to check the food labels, a crucial tool  to make nutritious heart-healthy choices that are also based on your food preferences and satisfaction.

  • The Nutrition Facts tells you the serving size and how many servings are in one package.  You can also learn how much total carbohydrates, sugar, total fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, and other nutrients you’ll get in each serving.
  • The % Daily Value tells you how much of a nutrient is in one serving of food in terms of the daily recommended amount. Take into consideration that %DV are based on a 2000 Calories a day.

You may need to consume less or more than 2,000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight.

  • Nutrient content claims such as “low-fat” are used to compare the level of a nutrient (ex: fat) in a food to the regular food.
  • The ingredients list tells you what’s in the food.

The Nutrition Facts

Here’s an example of a Nutrition Facts section.  The serving size is at the top.  How does the serving size compare to your usual serving?  If you usually eat the entire can of chili with beef and beans, you double the servings, then double the calories and nutrients.

How to use food labels:

  • To make heart-healthy food choices look at the amount of sugars, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and sodium content and consume in limited amounts the food high in these nutrients.
  • To lower your risk of heart disease, choose products with more fibers accounting for 20% DV or more per serving.
  • Make sure you get enough of beneficial nutrients such as: protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day.
  • Compare labels of similar foods.
  • Choose foods with less saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  • Choose foods with the lowest amounts of sugar, sodium, and Trans-fat accounting for 5% DV or less of each nutrient per serving.
  • If you are trying to lose weight, compare foods for calories too.

Nutrient content claims

A quick way to find heart-healthy foods is to check the nutrient content claims on the label.

For example, you’ll see the claim “lower sodium” on some brands of chili with beef and beans.  This means the product has at least 25% less sodium than the regular version.  If a food is “reduced” or “less,” it still can be high so check the food label.

Be careful while choosing “low fat foods” as they might contain more sugar and calories than the regular version. Regular food high in total fat are ok as long as they are eaten in moderation.

Food claims—What do they mean?

Ingredients list

Ingredients are listed in order from most to least.  So the food has more of the ingredients at the top of the list and less of those at the bottom.  Check the list for things you’d like to avoid, however it is not always simple to detect all the ingredients especially when some go by names other than what we expect.

  • Take sugars for example, you might see sugar listed as the fourth ingredient in a product and think it’s not so bad, however many other terms are used for sugar on food labels:

High-fructose corn syrup or corn syrup, agave nectar, barley malt syrup or dehydrated cane juice, to name just a few.

  • Sodium also has several names: Salt, sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG), and Sodium Nitrite.
  • Perhaps trickiest of all is trans-fats:

You won’t find these listed as Trans-fats at all, but rather ingredients that contain trans-fats: mainly partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil.

When the Nutrition Facts label says a food contains “0 g” of trans-fat, but includes “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, it means the food contains trans-fat, but less than 0.5 grams of trans-fat per serving.

So taking into consideration the food label and ingredient list is not only the solution to adopt a healthy lifestyle, Moderate intake is the key, if you eat more than one serving, you could quickly reach your daily limit of trans-fat.