Do you have a hard time making heads or tails of the Nutrition Facts panel on food packages? You're not alone. While it may seem as though the nutrition label is designed to confuse and mystify, with a little education and a handy primer, you can become an instant nutrition label expert.
Here's a breakdown of some key label items and how they relate to the South Beach Diet, from top to bottom:
Serving Size. Serving sizes are standardized by product type and are based on the amount of food a typical person consumes. For example, a can of diet soda will always contain 1 serving no matter who manufactures it. Many products contain more than one serving size within the package. While the South Beach Diet doesn't require you to count servings for most foods, there are certain exceptions, like nuts. That's why it's helpful to understand serving sizes. Also, if you are experiencing a weight-loss stall, our nutritionists suggest cutting back on certain foods, such as reduced-fat cheeses. Again, this is where serving sizes come into play on the South Beach Diet.
Calories. This is a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of the product. The South Beach Diet does not require you to count calories, so don't dwell on this part of the panel.
Fat. This section is always broken down into saturated fats and trans fats. Unsaturated fats may be listed voluntarily, but manufacturers are not required to list them; they are included in the total fat calculation. Avoid products with 20 percent or more of the daily recommended value of saturated fat, as well as those that contain trans fats. You can determine which products contain good fats, like canola and extra-virgin olive oil, by checking for these oils in the ingredients list.
Cholesterol and Sodium. While Dr. Agatston does not require you to limit your intake of these two items, your physician may suggest it. If this is the case, follow your doctor's recommendations.
Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber, and Sugars. If you're following the South Beach Diet, you already know you don't need to count carbs. On the other hand, you do need to be aware of dietary fiber — a listing that appears beneath carbohydrates on the food label. Choose whole-grain breads that contain at least 3 grams of fiber, and cold cereals that have 3 to 5 grams or more.
When it comes to sugars (also listed below carbohydrates on the label), this number represents the sum of sugars that occur naturally (like lactose and glucose) plus added sugars. Rather than focusing on this number, take a peek at the ingredients list to check for added sugars — and avoid products made with them.
Educate yourself and your family about these nutritional guidelines, and you'll be better able to make healthy choices when buying food.
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