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How to read a food label.

You stare at them as you munch your breakfast cereal. You rip through them to grab a handful of chips or a row of Oreos. But have you ever actually read a food label? Thanks to a 1993 law, these labels are more helpful and truthful than ever before, providing crucial information that will tell you whether a food is healthy fuel filled with nutrients or a decadent nosh laden with fat and sugar. Become the master of your diet. Read those labels.

The federal government now has strict guidelines for what food manufacturers must say on their labels. Food companies can get into trouble for lying. The key word here is "fact." For example, "low saturated fat" on the label means 1 gram or less of fat per serving.

Serving Size: is supposed to reflect how much of this food a normal hungry person would eat in one sitting. Of course, few of us can restrict ourselves to 13 potato chips or 1/2 cup of ice cream. So look closely at the serving size.

Calories: Our bodies need energy to fuel cells and tissues. We get that energy from the foods we eat. The amount of energy stored in a given food is measured in calories. The typical teenaged girl needs about 2,200 calories a day; the average boy, about 2,800. The label is geared to a 2,000-calorie diet. Look for foods with high % Daily Values for dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Sodium: A main ingredient in salt, sodium controls the amount of fluids in our bodies. Too much sodium causes our bodies to retain fluids, which can lead to high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Most nutritionists recommend eating no more than 2,400 to 3,000 milligrams of sodium per day.

% Daily Value: This column gives you an idea of how one serving of a food fits into an adult's daily diet. This information helps you keep tabs on substances, like fat and sodium, that you should limit. It also helps you see how a food contributes to daily requirements of important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Fat: This substance, which looks globular and yellowish on its own, occurs naturally in meats, dairy products, and most oils. Eating too many fatty foods--like french fries, red meat, whole milk, cheese, and rich desserts--can lead to health problems. Teenage girls should consume less than 65 grams of fat a day; boys should consume 80 grams or less.

Saturated Fat: This is listed separately on food labels because it's particularly unhealthy. Saturated fats include butter, meat fat, Crisco, and palm and coconut oils. Unsaturated fats, which are easier on the body, include olive and canola oils.

Cholesterol: This white, waxy substance occurs naturally in our bodies and travels through our blood. Eating too many saturated fats causes our bodies to produce too much cholesterol, which can clog arteries and eventually cause heart attacks and strokes.

RELATED ARTICLE: Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1/2 cup (1149)
Serving Per Container 4

Amount Per Serving:
Calories 260 (Calories from fat 120)

 %Daily Value

Total Fat 13g 20%
 Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 30mg 10%
Sodium 660mg 28%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 11%
 Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
 Sugars 5g
Protein 5g

Vitamin A 4% Vitamin C 2%
Calcium 15% Iron 4%

(*) Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000
calories diet. Your daily values may be higher or
lower depending on your calories needs:

 Calories: 2,000 2,500

Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
Sat Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400 mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
Dietary Fiber 25g 30g

Calories per gram:

Fat 9 Carbohydrate 4 Protein 4
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Seven features on a food label including serving size, and amounts of such factors as fat, are explained
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 17, 1997
Previous Article:Science in action: here's one instance in which good ideas were flushed down the toilet - again and again.
Next Article:El Nino goes wild.

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