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Quick tips for buying packaged foods

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What’s in a label? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering making changes to nutrition labels to include additional information that will help consumers make responsible food choices. Until then, you can identify the best foods for your diet by using these simple tips:

Find the secret ingredient. Did you know that you can find partially hydrogenated oil in many foods packaged foods? This is the manufactured form of trans fat, which experts agree is among the worst fats for your body.

Less is more. Most health experts advise avoiding foods with long ingredient lists, which tend to belong to foods that are highly processed and full of chemicals and additives. Focus on whole foods that undergo less processing.

Go to the back. The back of the package, that is. Don’t be fooled by the BIG letters or claims on the front of the package. Look at the label on the back or side panel of the package to really understand the ingredient list.

The first one is the biggest. The first ingredient on the ingredient list is always the biggest by weight. So, if you are shopping for breakfast cereal, do you really want to choose one that has sugar as the first ingredient? Probably not.

Choose juice, not drink. Beverages labeled as fruit drinks, cocktails or beverages are usually not 100 percent fruit juice. Look for products that state they are 100 percent fruit juice.

Low-fat, fat-free or sugar-free ≠ low-calorie. While low this and that claims may be true, they do not necessarily reflect a low-calorie food. In some instances the low-fat or low-sugar product has the same amount or even more calories than its “regular” version. Check the nutrition label for the amount of calories to be sure of what you’re eating.

Naturally, it’s natural. The front of the package may claim the food is natural, but even if a product started off as natural, by the time the food has undergone intense processing the final result may not be so natural. Look for 100 percent all-natural and/or no-preservative food items.

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