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Nutrition Facts: How to Read Food Labels

What to Look for First on the Label

Hint! It's on the back. Follow these rules of thumb when evaluating nutrition facts panels and you'll make smart selections every time.

Calories: Consider how the food fits into your daily calorie budget and compare with similar products. Grated Parmesan cheese is fairly high in calories, but if you're just sprinkling a tablespoon or two on your pasta, it's a calorie bargain (at 22 per tablespoon) based on its flavor infusion.

Fat: Experts say reasonable targets are 20 percent or less of total calories from fat and 10 percent or less of total calories from saturated fat.

Fiber: Three grams per serving or higher is a healthy amount to look for.

Serving size: Gauge if it's a reasonable-sized serving. Half a cup of granola (roughly 300 calories) may not be enough to satisfy you, so you'd be better off with a 1-1/2-cup serving of bran flakes (for 200 calories).

Sodium: Look for, at most, a 1:1 ratio of milligrams of sodium to calories in a serving (100 milligrams per 100 calories, for instance). "Sodium content can vary considerably even with similar products, such as deli turkey breast," says Janelle P. Gunn, MPH, RD, analyst for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So be sure to compare and contrast.

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