How to Read a Food Label

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Forget all the fancy claims on the front of the package - "Lite," "Low Sodium," "Reduced Fat" -- they tell you nothing. What you need is a direct means of comparison between products, and this is found in a little box on the bottom or back simply labeled "Nutrition Facts." Highly simplified from the labeling used years ago, this box presents key dietary information exclusively.

First on the label is the serving size. People tend to overlook this and go straight to the calories section -- big mistake. Calories are calculated based on the serving size. If you're planning to eat a 240-calorie frozen fish filet for dinner, that isn't an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, it's exactly one filet - the serving size. If you want more, you'll have to multiply the calories (and everything else) accordingly.

Calories come next, listed as total calories and fat calories. In general, healthy foods will have less than half their calories coming from fat. Do a quick check -- if most the calories come from fats, think twice about whether your hips really need that product.

Fats are broken down categorically. Check for a big zero on trans fat -- any consumer-conscious product has eliminated the use of trans fats by now. After that, compare the saturated fat to the total fat. The lower the saturated fat, the better is the ratio of unsaturated to saturated fats. You need both, but in general, you want a higher proportion of unsaturated fats in your diet.