Reading nutrition labels: A guide to a healthy pregnancy

With a baby on the way there is no better time to improve your health habits and make the necessary changes to improve your lifestyle. Eating plays a very big role in our lives and, in today’s world, making healthy choices can be hard. Being bombarded by marketing strategies, one can easily be fooled into thinking certain products are healthy when they are actually loaded with fat, sugar and sodium. Although it’s best to avoid packaged food, at certain times it’s the only option. Keep reading and we’ll teach you to become an expert at reading nutrition labels so you can make informed food choices.

To begin, turn the product over and find the label that reads “Nutrition Facts”. Here are the things to look for:

• Serving size and the servings per container: In this section, you’ll learn the serving size and how many servings are contained within the package. Be sure to always read the amount of servings per package as the nutrition label only reflects the content of one portion. For example, a package of eight cookies might contain two servings and once you multiply the calories, fat or sugar content it might be best to look for a more filling and healthier option.

• Calories per serving: In this section, you will find the number of calories per serving. Be mindful of the calories per package, but remember that calories are not the ultimate way to determine if a food is healthy. Nuts or avocados for example, are high in calories but very healthy. It’s all about portion control and choosing the most nutrient dense options. As a general rule, 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate (and a great option for a snack) and 400 calories is high.

• Fats: The next section to review is the total fat content and its breakdown. Unsaturated fats found in olive oil or avocado are the healthiest. Saturated fats found in meat or butter are okay to consume in moderation, but steer completely of trans fats as they have been associated with heart disease.

• Sugars: Be sure to take a look at the sugar content of the package. According to the American Heart Association, women should not exceed 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day. To convert grams to teaspoons simply divide the total amount by 4. This recommendation excludes intrinsic sugars such as those found in fruits and dairy, making it hard to exceed the limit if you don’t buy processed foods. But if you do, keep an eye out for the added sugar.

• Fiber: When reading a food label try to choose products high in fiber as they are great at stabilizing blood sugar and delaying the return of hunger after eating. Plus, they are important for gastrointestinal health.

• Sodium: Processed foods tend to be high in sodium as this helps keep food fresh for a longer period of time. According to mayor health organizations, sodium is an important mineral to include in our diets but we should try to consume less than 1500 mg of sodium per day, and not exceed more than 2300 mg.

• Vitamins: This section mentions the vitamins and minerals in the product, but beware this can be misleading. Many companies add vitamins and minerals to products to increase sales, but this does not mean that the food item is healthy.

• Ingredients: Usually found below, above or beside the nutrition facts. Here you can read all the ingredients used to prepare the food item. Ingredients are always listed from most to least, meaning that the first ingredient is the most prevalent in the product. The less ingredients the packaged food has the better.

These eight key factors are very important when it comes to picking packaged foods, but remember to try to eat less processed foods and more things that don’t come with nutrition labels such as fruit, vegetables and lean protein.

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