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What you don’t read can hurt you.

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Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean paying more or growing it yourself—but you have to read the label.

Including healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet puts you ahead of the game, but in modern society, eating foods that come straight from the earth can be expensive or impractical. Refined and pre-packaged foods can still be healthy options, but you must be aware of nutritional facts found on food labels, rather than focus solely on vitamin and mineral content.

Check the serving size

Information on a package’s food label is based on its serving size and for the full container, which could have multiple servings. Think about drinking a glass of orange juice where the label reads 125 calories per 8 ounce glass. If you drink 16 ounces, your calorie intake will increase as well. In this case, you would have taken in 250 calories from a 16 ounce glass, about as much as a candy bar.

Look for the fats: Good and bad

Not all fats are bad for you. When reading the nutritional label, check the fat content. Avoid trans fats completely while keeping saturated fats and cholesterol at a minimum. There is also a list of ingredients, where you can look for fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a type of trans fat. There are also types of healthy, unsaturated fats such as canola, safflower and olive oil..

How much salt is too much?

Many people take in too much sodium. This has popularized products that offer low-sodium or unsalted versions of foods. A rule of thumb when reading labels is to compare the sodium content to the calories per serving. Ideally, it should be less than the caloric quantity.

Keep your body functioning with fibre

Fibre keeps your digestive tract working regularly. It is found in oat bran, some cereals, fruits, dark green and orange vegetables. When reading a label, try to find foods that contain at least 5 grams of fibre per serving. Try to consume one gram of fibre for every 10 grams of carbohydrates.

Find the hidden sugars

Containing little nutrition other than carbohydrates, sugars fill you with empty calories, keeping you from eating healthy foods. Most products include sweeteners that can make it hard to maintain blood sugar levels. Avoid products that list sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup or fructose in their first three ingredients. Other types of sugars are glucose, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose and fruit juice concentrate.

Protein: Check out our quick guide to protein here!

SOURCE: HealthBeat: Harvard Medical School Newsletter


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