Pay Attention To Food Labels During American Heart Month

Nutrition label photo by cohdra, courtesy of

I was surprised to see only a couple of cars in the parking lot. I was expecting a lot of participants in the activity.

I had a sinking feeling as I hopped out of our van. I quickly discovered that the door to the building was locked.

I thought I had the right date. One of my kids, a preteen at the time, plucked the letter with details about the kids’ activity out of my bag. Sure enough, we had the right date.

Maybe we’re really early, I thought to myself a little hopefully.

That wasn’t the issue. We were just 10 minutes early.

“Mom, we’re at the wrong place!” my son exclaimed.

“But it’s always here!” I exclaimed.

I grabbed the letter and discovered we had many miles to drive and not many minutes to get there. I’m sure my blood pressure increased more than a bit. Luck was on our side that day. The event started late as we arrived 10 minutes after the starting time.

I relearned an important lesson that day: Read the directions. My kids never let me forget it. They’ve been in charge of logistics ever since that day.

Sometimes the information we need is right in front of our faces or at our fingertips. We may be too preoccupied to pay attention, may make assumptions, may not understand the information or may choose to ignore the messages.

Think about going to a grocery store and making food choices. Do you read the nutrition labels and compare products?

If you are interested in health, all the information you need to make wise choices is on the food label. Nutrition Facts labels have been on food products since 1994. During February, American Heart Month, pause and read Nutrition Facts labels as you make choices.

Try this activity to better understand food labels. You will need a food package and a plate, bowl or measuring cup:

  1. Find the Nutrition Facts panel on the package. You’ll see the serving size in household measures (such as cups) and weight in grams. You also will note the number of servings per container. Sometimes the serving size is less than you may think. For example, 1 ounce (28 grams) of crackers (six crackers) is a common serving size. Measure or count out a serving of your food. Everything else on the label refers to that amount of food.
  2. Determine the number of calories. The amount indicated is not the amount for the entire container. The serving in front of you has that many calories. Note the calories from fat. In my cracker example, 40 of the 120 calories per six crackers come from fat.
  3. Notice the first group of nutrients, which are fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Try to limit these nutrients. Too much of these can increase your risk for heart disease, cancer and/or high blood pressure.
  4. Note the column heading “Percent Daily Value” (abbreviated %DV). If the food in front of you has 20 percent or more of any particular nutrient, it is considered “high” in that nutrient. If it has 5 percent or less, it is considered “low” in that nutrient.
  5. Compare the amount of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and the minerals, calcium and iron. We need to get enough of these nutrients, but, unfortunately, many Americans shortchange themselves. These nutrients also carry a “percent daily value.” Try to reach 100 percent of what you need.
  6. Notice the “footnote” at the bottom of the label. This gives the goal amounts determined by public health experts.

Here’s a tasty snack with heart-healthy soluble fiber from beans. Read the labels on the ingredients when you choose them at the store.

Chili Bean Dip

1 16-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 c. finely shredded cheddar cheese

Mash beans in a bowl or use a food processor. Add onion, chili powder and the cheese, reserving a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top. Place in a microwave-safe container. Warm the mixture in a microwave oven for 30-second intervals until cheese is melted. Serve with raw vegetables, whole-grain crackers or baked tortilla chips.

Makes about eight servings. Each serving has 80 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 10 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of fiber.