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Your first major life skill as a healthy eater and cook is to read every label of every single thing you put in your body. Spoiler alert: if it doesn’t have a label, it might be so good for you that it doesn’t need one (like fresh vegetables and fruits!).

As a heart patient, or someone who loves one, you’ll be looking for two things: sodium and saturated fat. As a diabetic patient, you’ll be looking at sugars and starchy/refined carbs. We are not here to tell you how much sugar or sodium, or other substance is too much. That advice will come from your doctor, but know what your guidelines are. Things that have more than your recommended amounts go into the category of exceptions and splurges.

The important thing is that you’re setting your boundaries: “I’m not going to eat anything with more than X milligrams of sodium, or Y grams of sugar, per serving, because that will undermine my success.

The operative words here are “PER SERVING,” and that is an important key to deciphering labels. If a 2 ounce bag of potato chips or a standard can of soup says that it is 3.5 servings, you have to ask yourself: “Is this really 3.5 servings? Or was I planning on eating the whole thing?” If you were planning for the whole can of soup to be lunch, multiply that amount of sodium by the number of servings to find out how much sodium you would actually be taking in! Now you see why we suggest giving away your canned soup.

Always watch for “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label, but don’t let that stop you from checking the amount per serving. When something that normally has 800 mg of sodium per serving is “reduced” to 600 mg per serving, yes that is reduced ( or “lower”) sodium, but it’s still high. That food might be a candidate for replacement.

For more on the importance of reading labels, be sure to view our Resources page and scroll down to the section on reading labels.

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