Everyone always says, "Make sure you read the label!"
But what specifics should you be looking at?Serving Size - This is at the top of the label because all the amounts that follow are tied to this serving size. Total calories and fat calories are calculated per serving, so a bag of chips might be 150 calories per serving, yet the whole bag is three servings. Always read the servings per container.
Percent of Daily Value - This 2,000 is based on fairly active people. If you are extremely active or for your teens it would be higher, around 2,500. This is the percent of that total number for the days' allowance. So, for a serving of Cheerios with a 1/2 cup skim milk, this would be 3% of the daily fat intake and 11% of the daily fiber intake recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Fat - Here you want to focus on more than just total fat. The important things to pay attention to are the numbers for: saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fats. You are looking for foods that contain relatively little saturated and trans fat, and relatively more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Keep in mind that "fat-free" doesn't equal "calorie-free." Lots of fat-free and low-fat foods have added sugar.
Cholesterol - An essential component of cell membranes, and a covering for nerve-cell fibers, these are the building blocks of hormones. Yet, only animal products contain cholesterol. Adults should keep their daily intake to 300 milligrams or less. Too much can elevate your blood cholesterol, raising your heart-disease risk.
Sodium - The recommended daily limit for adults is 2,300 milligrams. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure. According to the USDA, a food that is low in sodium would contain no more than 140 milligrams. So, a serving of Cheerios has 210 milligrams, and therefore, is not low in sodium. Beware of soups and frozen dinners, they can have more than 1,000 milligrams, which is nearly half of the daily amount.
Total Carbohydrate - This is a very large category containing everything from whole grains, or healthy carbs, to sugar and other refined carbs (unhealthy ones). Keep an eye on the sugar and fiber numbers.
Dietary Fiber - The average adult should have between 21 and 35 grams of fiber daily. When buying bread or cereal look for brands with 3 grams or more per serving. Both types, soluble and insoluble, are important. Soluble fiber, found in: oatmeal, barley, and dried beans, helps lower cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber, found in: whole grains, fruit and vegetable skins, helps your digestive track.
Sugars - Simple carbohydrates including: glucose, fructose, and galactose all provide little nutritional value. It shows up in weird places like crackers, salad dressings, and "healthy" cereals. Remember it's often added to low-fat foods to boost flavors.
Protein - The rule of thumb where protein is concerned is .45 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 then you should be ingesting 68 grams of protein a day. Typically this is easy to do, unless you are vegetarian. It is also rare to have a surplus of protein in your diet.
Vitamins and Minerals - This list includes the vitamins and minerals that are found in the food naturally, along with any that have been added and again the daily value for each. Remember that's based on the typical active adult with a 2,000 calorie diet.
Ingredients - Here the products ingredients are listed with the highest contents preceding the rest. So you want the first ingredient of your bread to say, "whole wheat" not enriched flour. Food for thought, whole wheat is a whole grain, but not all brown-colored and "multigrain" breads are made of whole grains.