Now that you know how to skim through:

  • Serving size
  • % daily value
  • Fat content

It’s time to move on to cholesterol, sodium and sugars. If you missed the previous post you can read it here.

4. Cholesterol and Sodium

Well, the less cholesterol and sodium (a.k.a. salt) the better. Cholesterol is fat’s cousin and can create a lot of damage to your heart. Granted there is LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol, but food labels do not go in that much detail. If you have a known heart condition, please consult your doctor as they should be able to tell you what your personalized daily intake should be. As a quick skim, try to limit the cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day. Therefore. If the label indicates a cholesterol level of 150 mg, that is roughly 50% of the daily intake. My recommendation is to leave the product and look for something with 100 mg or less per serving.

Sodium is another cause for high blood pressure in some individuals. Moreover salt makes you retain water, which in turn makes you feel sluggish. The latest recommendation for adults is about 2,300 mg per day (it is even less for children). To make it easy on yourself when you buy a product if the percentage is over 20% or 450mg per serving, then you are better off not getting the product.

5. Total Carbohydrate

This is the trickier part of reading food labels. Society is so fixated on the low carbs diet that we often get mislead by what we should and should not pay attention to. The total carbohydrate section is typically divided in fiber and sugar. As a general rule, you want the fiber content to be high and the sugar content to be low.

Moreover, it is important to know where the carbs are coming from. For instance, a product that has 3g of sugar and 1 fiber, will have a higher total carbohydrate value than another one that has 1g of sugar and 3g of fiber. Therefore, in order to keep carbs in check you want products with high fiber content. The easy way to keep track is to look at the fiber over sugar ratio: the grams of fiber should be higher or close to the grams of sugar. Also, the lower the sugar, the better.

Now it’s time to sum it all up:

  • Check the Serving Size first.
  • % Daily Value is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you eat two servings you need to double all the numbers.
  • No trans fats, and as little as possible saturated fats.
  • Keep cholesterol to less than 300mg and sodium to less than 2,300mg a day. Serving size should be less than 20% of each.
  • Look for products that have higher fiber amounts (grams) than sugar.

What is your quick tip for reading food labels? Leave us a comment below: