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Nutrition Facts: How to Read Food Labels

Everything you need to know about reading and understanding food packaging.

Picture this: You're standing in a grocery store aisle packed 7 feet high with cereal. As you try to compare the hyped-up claims, nutritional info and, oh yeah, prices of several brands, your kid rushes over, begging for some new sugary cereal he saw on TV. The checkout line is getting longer, your patience is getting shorter and you still have no idea what to toss into the cart. Fortunately, there's a solution: Become a nutrition sleuth and learn to ID the important facts on labels—fast.

Fifty-four percent of shoppers in the U.S. read food labels when purchasing a product for the first time. But whether they fully understand many of the terms used is another story entirely. "It's a huge problem because people are frequently blinded by a flashy label or vague claims—and they often don't look at packages closely," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time. "If you put in the effort just once, you can develop a list of foods that are good for you, and then all you have to do is buy them in the future."

To help, here's a guide to exactly what to look for on a label, whether you're shopping for cereal, juice or organic chicken.

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