Reading Food Labels For Your Health

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By Jim Nettleton

Most people, especially in the United States, are confused when it comes to judging portions of food. For instance, how much is 5 or 6 portions of vegetables and fruit, what constitutes a portion of red meat, etc. Most Americans would probably be surprised that what they think is one portion is quite possibly much more than that. If you are seriously watching what you eat and how much you eat, investing in a food scale is probably a good idea. Some of the high-end scales are capable of keeping a running total of your intake.

The first step in getting your eating habits in order, however, should be reading the labels on the foods you’re considering buying. Check the serving size mentioned, which is usually at the top of the label. Bear in mind that these figures are derived from averages and are not written in stone, but they do provide an overall guide that is useful. The serving size is what determines the level of nutrients delivered by that particular food, so it becomes a simple matter of addition to find out how much of a given nutrient you’ll consume if you eat more than one serving.

Below the serving size is a breakdown of the percentage of various nutrients, including the calories, fat, saturated fat, mono unsaturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and so on. The percentage of the recommended daily allowance of each of these items is listed on the right hand side of the label. The percentages listed express a relationship to the recommended caloric intake for an individual of two thousand calories.

Obviously, what we’re looking for is the highest nutritional value combined with the lowest caloric content and lowest fat totals. Remember, however, that calories in themselves are not evil. The body needs them constantly. It’s excess calories that are the culprit. Likewise, the body needs fat, as long as the totals are not overboard. You can find many related tips on maintaining and losing weight at my diet website. You can go there through the link in my resource box below.

The main purpose in studying the food labels on the groceries we buy is to control our overall diet balance and supply our bodies with the well rounded food intake that will help our systems run efficiently and healthily. I’ve known several people who keep a daily log of foods they buy and eat. A couple of them have the data entered into a spread sheet so that they can create an ongoing graph of their eating habits.

That might be taking it a bit too far, but it could be a smart idea when you’re just starting out trying to organize and control your eating habits. Take a notebook along when shopping or, for those who are more high-tech oriented, a Blackberry or other hand held device, and keep careful notes on label information and everything you buy.

Once you develop the habit of evaluating what you buy and eat, it will become second nature, much to your overall health’s benefit. The old adage, “we are what we eat” certainly applies in today’s world. Americans in particular are gaining weight at a frighteningly rapid pace. The scariest aspect of that trend is that it is present in large degree in the young. It is a trend that needs to be stopped quickly if the future health of the population as a whole is to be protected.

So let’s make a start be reading those labels carefully and take a step in the right diet direction. Here’s to good, healthy eating.

About the author:

Jim Nettleton is a radio and TV professional with wide-ranging interests. Visit his all- inclusive diet website at