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Read Your Labels

When clients come to me with goals of losing weight, one of my first pieces of advice is to read nutritional labels. But that advice alone isn’t worth a hill of beans, now is it? You have to know what to look for, so I’ve decided to put together a handy little guide on the subject.

How to read a nutritional facts label:

1.  Look at the serving size. If the serving size is less than a person would reasonably consume in one sitting, that’s a red flag. For example, did you know that ramen noodle soups are meant to be shared? At least, according to the nutritional label of many popular brands. If they didn’t split it up into two servings, the sodium content would be through the roof – about enough for an entire day’s worth of meals.

2.  Oh, the Calories. With a number of popular calorie-counting diets, many dieters are used to looking at this number. As a general rule, anything with 400 calories or more per serving is considered a high-calorie food. The real problem with these calorie-dense foods is that they are often severely deficient in nutrients. For example, one serving of mac and cheese may have 250 calories, but 110 of those calories are purely fat. Counting calories is about more than just losing weight. It’s about becoming a healthier you.

3.   Check sugar content.  Hidden sugars are a bit of an epidemic in our food supply. Things like salad dressings, juices and breads can have much more sugar than you think. Sugar can be a tricky thing to manage because an RDA hasn’t been established. Unless you have a problem with high sugar or diabetes, you should be safe if you simply avoid added sugars.

 4.  Avoid excess sodium. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, your daily sodium intake should be less than 2,400 milligrams. Considering that you’ll have three meals and about two snacks per day, ideally, you should only consume foods that contain about 20% or less of your daily value of sodium. Also, keep in mind that if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably cutting calories. If you’re on a 1,500 calorie diet, your RDA of sodium drops to about 1,245 milligrams. Now, you should forget about the percent of daily value and just try to get about 300 milligrams or less of sodium per meal.

5.   Be aware of cholesterol. According to the FDA, you should keep your cholesterol intake as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet. Have high cholesterol? Stop eating so much of it. It’s that simple. All animal products contain cholesterol. I’m not suggesting that anyone take on a vegan lifestyle, but if you know cholesterol is a problem, talk to you Dr., and try cutting back on it for a few weeks and see what happens. You’ll likely find that your blood cholesterol levels will naturally improve. Of course, if you have any concerns or a complicated medical history, talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet, but most people can go a few weeks without consuming much dietary cholesterol. Even if cholesterol isn’t a problem for you, it’s a good idea to be aware of what you’re consuming. The RDA is 300 milligrams on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Ideally, you want to consume foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein in order to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. So, you should also look for these things on the nutritional label. There isn’t much need to worry about getting too many vitamins and minerals or even too much fiber from your meals. The jury is out on whether we can have too much protein, but again, it’s shouldn’t be a major cause of concern.

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