Barb Parnell: Read food labels

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One of the easiest tools a family can use to ensure a healthier diet is the Nutrition Facts label found on every product. They can help you compare, explore and analyze the vast array of products we have to choose from every time we go to the grocery store. Understanding food labels is important to get a general idea of what’s in a food, figuring out what counts as a serving, how many calories are in each serving and comparing products to choose the healthiest option. As your children get older, they can use these labels to become grocery store detectives and help to find the best products to buy. What yogurt is the lowest in sugar? Which canned vegetable is lowest in sodium? Which cereal provides the most fiber? You might be surprised by the variability in percentage of sugar, sodium and fat in similar products.

■ Check the serving size, usually found right under Nutrition Facts on the label. Is this the serving size that you planned to serve to your child?

■ Figure out the calories in each package/can. Multiply the number of servings per container by the calories, and you will know how many calories you would eat if you ate the whole package or can.

■ Select foods that have limited amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium; keep transfat to zero.

■ Look for foods that are good sources of nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals.

■ Compare similar foods and choose the healthiest option by checking the percent daily value for each nutrient. Aim for foods that provide the highest percentage of nutrients.

Nutrition Facts labels can be helpful, but don’t be fooled by some common labeling. A food is not calorie free just because the label says “sugar free” or “fat free.” A quick look at the label will tell you how many calories in each serving you will be eating. Remember that “organic” and “natural” labels do not guarantee the food is healthy. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because a package looks like it should only be one serving, it actually is. Many beverages and packages of chips, cookies and candy actually are two or three servings.

It won’t take long to choose healthier foods once you take the time on a few occasions to compare the labels of common products your family uses. A little time in the grocery store can increase the health of your family significantly during the long run.

Barb Parnell

LiveWell Northwest Colorado community coordinator

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