What can a packaged food item’s ingredients list tell me?

When you are shopping for heart-healthy groceries, you will want to review two sources of information on a food’s package: the Nutrition Facts panel that lists the amount of various nutrients in the food, as well as the ingredients list. Because the ingredients list is just that -- a list of ingredients -- it takes close reading to figure out what it is really telling you. Here are some tips that can help you figure out if the ingredients list is indicating that a food is good for your heart health.
  • The ingredients in a food product are listed by weight in decreasing order. This complete list of information is vital to anyone with food allergies. It is also very useful in determining nutrition information about a food product.
  • If there are more preservatives than identifiable ingredients, a food may be highly processed and, therefore, likely not as healthy as a less processed food.
  • If bread is made with whole-wheat flour as the first and only flour ingredient, it is 100% whole wheat.
  • If a product contains partially hydrogenated oil, this indicates it contains some trans fat despite a label that may say "0 grams" of trans fat. (Labeling regulations allow food companies to report "0 grams of trans fat" on a "Nutrition Facts" label when a food product contains 0.5 grams of trans fat or less per serving.)
  • If sugar or high-fructose corn syrup is listed before other more healthful ingredients, such as fruit, this may be a food that is high in calories from sugar and low in other nutrients. Other names for sugar include the following: corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup.

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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.