A good rule of thumb with labels is less is more, meaning the fewer ingredients the better. Look for ingredients that you can pronounce easily. They should be easy to identify and represent real foods, not additives or preservatives. The best packaged foods have five ingredients or less.
Try these tips:
- Many breads and cereals are now labeled on the front with high-fiber or whole-grain. Pick these and check the back of the packaging, too. Whole grains - whole-wheat flour, for example - should be listed as one of the first ingredients. The nutritional information also lists the percentage of your daily fiber in one serving size. The higher the number, the better.
- Pick foods that are lower in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fats and high in fiber, iron and vitamins. You can start by picking packages with non-fat or low-fat labels on the front. Screen the nutritional information on the back for more information.
- Pick foods with zero trans fats and no high fructose corn syrup.
- For milk products, look for the RbGH-free label.
- Foods labeled low-fat often have higher levels of added sugar so be sure to check the nutritional information on the back of the packaging. Limit the amount of added sugar you consume by making sure sugar, fructose, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are not primary ingredients on the ingredient list. The label will include natural sugars, like those found in milk and fruit, in the total amount of grams of sugar. Avoid added sugar and stick to natural sugars.
- Pay attention to the serving size on the back of the package. A food may appear to be low in fats and calories due to a very small serving size, but may not actually be.
Article copyright © 2014 American Heart Association. This recipe is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.