The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day – fresh, frozen, canned, raw, or cooked. It all counts! Don’t forget that fruits and vegetables can also be incorporated into many of the prepared foods we enjoy. So, whether you are picking up a can of vegetable soup, a smoothie mix, or a cauliflower pizza, keep the following tips on label reading close to your heart:
- The Nutrition Facts panel identifies not only the number of servings per container, but the portion size as well. If you are not sure what 2/3 C or 2 Tablespoons looks like, pull out those measuring cups and spoons. After a while, you will become a pro at “guesstimating” portion sizes accurately.
- The % Daily Value, based on a 2000 calorie/day diet, is a helpful tool on the Nutrition Facts panel to identify specific key nutrients. While individual calorie and nutrient needs vary based on age, gender, activity level, weight and medical status, the % Daily Value can provide valuable information at a single glance.
- If you want to consume less of a nutrient: Choose foods with a % Daily Value of 5% or less.
- If you want to consume more of a nutrient: A Daily Value of 10-19% is considered a good source, while a Daily Value of 20% or more is considered a high source of a particular nutrient.
- Know when to go low:
- Saturated, Trans Fats and Total Fats: The American Heart Association recommends consuming < 16 grams saturated fat, < 2 grams trans fat, and between 50 and 70 grams of total fat per day.
- Cholesterol: Try to limit to no more than 300 milligrams/day.
- Sodium: The American Heart Association suggests limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams/day and 1,500 milligrams/day for most adults, especially those with high blood pressure.
- Added Sugars: The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for most men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for most women and children over 2.
- Recognize when to go high:
- Total dietary fiber intake for most adults should be 25-30 grams a day, preferably from food, not supplements. Currently, dietary fiber intake among adults in the United States averages only about 15 grams a day.
- Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron and Potassium are micronutrients that have been found to be lacking in some diets.
- Just the facts:
- Carbohydrates include naturally occurring and add sugars, starch, and fiber. Remember: Go low when it comes to added sugars and aim high for fiber!
- Most Americans consume more than the Daily Value of 50 grams/day for protein.
- Food labels must always include the ingredients, listed in descending order by weight. Typically, items with fewer ingredients are less processed.
The next time you glance at a food label, keep your heart health in mind. Know when to go high and when to go low! And remember to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables: No Label required!