Read the Label

Grocery shopping can be a complex calculus of price, packaging and what plain tastes good. How does the "Nutrition Facts" label, appearing on foods since 1994, influence the food choice equation? It compels people to make healthier dietary decisions. People who peruse labels purchase lower-fat foods.

According to scientists at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, people who get the skinny on their food consume 6% fewer fat calories than non-label-readers. "The difference in fat intake between label-readers and non-readers was evident even after adjusting for age, weight, sex, education, exercise and attitudes about diet," says Marian Neuhouser, Ph.D., who led the study on food label use.

The strongest predictor of who will look at the fine print on packaged foods? Believing in the importance of a low-fat diet. Subjects who did were 10 times more likely to read labels than those who did not place much weight on low-fat cuisine.

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Food labels are an excellent education tool, Neuhouser concludes: "They give consumers some control over their food choices."

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