5 Food Label Traps and How to Avoid Them

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 04/10/2014

On foods don't look for low-sodium, look for the sodium to potassium ratio.Many of us have been fooled into believing that if a food item is low in calories and fat, it’s healthy. But there are actually a lot of other things you want to watch for on grocery store labels. Here’s how to read food label traps and how to avoid them.

5 Food Label Traps and How to Avoid Them

1. Don’t look for “low sodium,” instead look at the sodium-potassium ratio. Many doctors are focused on lowering sodium for healthy blood pressure. But just as important as lowering your sodium consumption is increasing your potassium intake. Potassium relaxes your arterial walls, which helps to bring blood pressure back into the healthy range. Always strive to consume more potassium than sodium, and make 3 grams of potassium a day your minimum goal.

2. Avoid trans-fats. Trans-fats raise LDL levels and reduce HDL levels. They also increase lipoprotein(a), an especially dangerous form of cholesterol that’s hard to detect. Instead, buy foods that contain olive, flax, sesame, and walnut oils.

3. Look for foods high in fiber. Studies have shown that increasing fiber intake is an effective and easy way to protect your heart. Soluble fiber helps prevent the absorption of cholesterol. It essentially soaks up cholesterol into a gelatin-like form that your body can’t absorb. Insoluble fiber, which is also great, helps cleanse the colon and decrease transit time in the intestines so more cholesterol is eliminated. For optimal health, you need at least 30 grams (g) of fiber a day.

4. Avoid foods that read like a “chemical soup.” Many processed foods contain useless “fillers,” high levels of preservatives (especially sodium) binders, and other chemicals whose effects may be harmful, or unknown. If you can’t read the food label, don’t buy it.

5. Watch serving sizes. Some stated portions are much smaller than what you would eat, so the calorie count is misleadingly low. Read the nutrition label carefully.

Now it’s your turn: Have you run into any of these food label traps?

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