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What information on food packaging can help me know if the food is healthy?

When looking at food packaging to see if the food is healthy, you can start by ignoring the front package of a product, which can mislead you with confusing health claims. It tells you only what the manufacturer wants you to know about the healthfulness of a product.

"Multigrain" doesn't necessarily mean 100-percent whole-wheat. A "reduced-fat food" doesn't necessarily mean it is a heart-healthy choice. "Fresh," "no additives" and "natural" are also confusing because they do not necessarily indicate that a product is healthy. All of these terms are not regulated, so manufacturers can use whatever definition they want. The bottom line is they do not necessarily mean that a food is better for you.

Instead, go to the Nutrition Facts Panel, which you can find on the side or back of a product. Understanding even this information can still be tricky. When you want to eat for heart health, you know you should be looking at many things: calories, saturated and trans fat, fiber, sodium, etc. It is easy to accidentally home in on one part of the label -- for example, sodium -- and forget to look at other parts. Only by looking at all the information on the Nutrition Facts Panel can you evaluate whether a food is a heart-healthy selection.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.