How to read food labels like a pro

Some nights, dinner needs to be fast. Like frozen food from a box to the oven fast (no judgement). Make the best shopping choices with these tips.

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The aisles of heat-and-eat dinner cheats are stacked with unhealthy options—it takes stealth to find the good ones. Study the boxes and packages: You’re looking for a list of ingredients that’s as short as possible and includes foods you’d find in the pantry (as opposed to additives with science-lab names). Here’s what to check on the nutrition facts table.

Sodium
Frozen and packaged food often contains way too much salt. Remember that over-consuming it, which many of us do, can lead to high blood pressure. Pick packages with less than 15 percent daily value (DV) of sodium per serving. If your frozen dinner is high in salt, keep your intake lower during the day.

Fat
With your heart’s health in mind, aim for foods with no more than 10 percent DV of saturated fat and less than 1 percent DV of trans fat per serving.

Sugar
For the sake of your weight and teeth, steer clear of supper staples with added sugar. It shows up on ingredient lists under a variety of names, such as glucose-fructose (additives that end with -ose are sugars), evaporated cane juice, corn syrup and molasses.

Fibre
Whenever possible, buy prepared food that’s high in fibre—it’s filling, helps keep cholesterol and weight in check and promotes regularity. Look for products that have at least 4 grams per serving. 

Vitamins and minerals
Plenty of packaged foods are light on the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Make sure your selections serve up, for example, vitamins A and C; iron and calcium; and always round out your packaged meals with vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

A version of this article appeared in our September 2016 issue with the headline “Be a label ninja,” p. 108.

Read more: 
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5 biggest school snack questions answered

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