Four things to know about nutrition labels

Chris Hardy -- It is important to read before you eat.

Food labels are like license agreements – they are seen but seldom read.

The charts on food packages are not for decoration but to serve as a guide to nutrition. Understanding food labels is important, especially for calculating the amount of nutrients your body will intake. The type of nutrients consumed not only impacts the organs but the outward appearance as well.

How exactly are food labels to be read, and why is it important to know what they say?

To clear up this conundrum, the following list focuses on four important sections that students should pay attention to:

1. SERVING SIZE- A significant detail when reading food labels is the serving size of a food item or drink. The serving size of a product gives information on how many calories each serving contains. This is usually located on the top left of the box.

Understanding caloric intake is essential because it gives the body fuel. However, an excessive intake of calories turn to fat. Nutrition facts are usually based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This is noteworthy because not every person consumes the same number of calories. For example, an athlete who is preparing to run a marathon needs to consume more calories than the average person in order to receive adequate fuel for their body.

2. INGREDIENTS- The most important section on the label is the list of ingredients because though a product may be low in calories, it may be just as bad to eat because of its ingredients.

In this case, look out for the words “artificial” and “hydrogenated.” Anything with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives can be problematic. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, hydrogenated oil is not healthy in any form because of the damage it can cause development of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Though it is used to preserve food, it can raise cholesterol and disrupt digestion. This is usually found in fried foods like doughnuts and french fries.

3. FATS- There are four major fats listed in food labels: saturated, trans fat, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. It is imperative to note which fats are beneficial and those that are harmful. Saturated and trans fats are detrimental because they raise bad cholesterol and increase the risk of developing heart disease. Because trans fat is over processed, it is the worst for the body. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are beneficial as it can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol levels in the blood. A rule of thumb is the lower the saturated fat content, the better it is for you.

4. CARBOHYDRATES- Carbohydrates are usually stored in muscles but too much can turn into fat. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates like candy, soda and jam are filled with refined sugars that are insufficient nutrition-wise. On the other hand, complex carbs are beneficial and nutritious. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains fall into this category.

There is much to be considered when deciding what to buy at the supermarket. Though the consequence of eating poorly may not be visible right away, it will be noticeable over time. Taking the time to understand what you eat is just another way to take care of your body.

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