Pretend you are standing in front of a dozen different types of pasta sauce. They all look good, but you need to know what is best for your family. Have you ever had this happen? I know I have. The nutrition facts label is the perfect place to help you make the right decision. Here is how you can use the nutrition facts label to help you decide.

Label basics

Watch for these terms to help you know what the label is telling you.

Serving size

Serving size tells you how to understand the rest of the information on the label. For example if the serving size is one-quarter cup, a nutrtion lable would list the facts based on a one-quarter cup serving. Serving size is important to understand because most people have larger servings than what is listed, but they still think what they eat is a serving. If this is the case, you need to adjust the rest of the label based on how much you eat. For example, if you ate one-half cup, or two servings, you would double everything on the label.

Servings per container

Servings per container tells you how many servings are in the package. This can help you figure out how many people or how many meals you can get out of the package. Another way this information is useful is for portion control. The information listed on the nutrition label is per serving or portion.

Calories

Calories are important to keep us moving. If we eat more calories than we use, we will gain weight. The number of calories people need depends many factors including height, weight, gender and activity level. Most nutrition labels are based on a 2,000-calorie healthy adult diet. By watching the number of calories you eat, you will know how many calories you have left for the day.

Percent daily value

The percent daily value, also labeled as % Daily Value or % DV, on the nutrition facts label lets you know how much of a certain nutrient your body needs is in a serving. Like the other nutrition information, the % DV increases based on the number of servings you eat.

Sodium

Sodium is a naturally occurring element needed for daily life. Too much sodium causes health issues. It is important to keep a close eye on the sodium in your food. Try to keep from purchasing foods with sodium added. There are some tricks to reading the label that can help. Canned goods labeled “low sodium” contain less than 140 milligrams of sodium, “very low sodium” contains less than 35 milligrams, and “sodium-free” contains less than 5 milligrams. Be wary of “reduced sodium” on a label. This means it has less sodium than the original version of the same brand label. There is no standard amount of sodium with “reduced sodium.” This means some “reduced sodium” cans could have higher amounts of sodium than the regular version of other brands.

Sugars

Like sodium, sugar is naturally occurring. When people think of sugar, they usually think of table sugar, white and crystal like. Table sugar is just one form of sugar. Sugar comes in a number of forms. Fruit, honey, and milk all have naturally occurring sugars. Recently there was a lot of attention given to high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS is a chemical process to make concentrated sugar. HFCS is found in a number of commercially made sauces, dressings, and even canned foods. It is most commonly found in soda. Like sodium, try to keep from purchasing foods with sugar added and try to avoid products with HFCS in them.

Trans fat

Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat. Trans fats raise LDL or the “bad cholesterol” and are linked to a number of health issues. Although most trans fats are created during commercial food processing, some can be found naturally in meat and dairy. To try and avoid trans fats, look for them on the nutrition label. Also, try to avoid products that have been through a process called hydrogenation.

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