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Packaged foods are understandably big in college. Let’s be real: no one is buying fresh artichokes for their dorm room mini fridge. Whether you’re choosing healthy items (say, almonds) or the less-than-healthy packaged items (say, ramen noodles), there’s always a nutrition label on the package. Turns out, those labels aren’t exactly Morse code, so you might as well give up pretending they’re too complicated to understand.

If you’re one of those people who didn’t realize those labels actually serve a purpose until this very moment, we’re here to help you. We’re going back to the (nutritional) basics with these easy-to-follow rules for reading food labels.

Rule #1: It’s Not Always About the Calorie Count

food labels

(Image via Veep Veep)

So many health conscious individuals look first and foremost at a product’s calorie count. News flash: the calorie count doesn’t always outweigh an item’s ingredients in importance. A good example is a “diet-friendly” yogurt, like Light & Fit (pictured above). The seemingly healthy, protein-packed snack is a mere 80 calories, with zero grams of fat. Wonderful. Not so wonderful? The modified corn starch inside of it. Don’t forget to check ingredient lists as well as nutritional values.

Rule #2: Salt Matters

food labels

(Image via Marcel’s)

Restaurant food is often jam-packed with salt. Don’t get us wrong, we are the biggest brunch fans out there, but when it comes to a Sunday morning meal at your college town’s local diner, be wary. A prime example? The “Stacked & Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes” at Bob Evans contain 2,259 mg of Sodium, AKA more salt than you’re supposed to consume in an entire day (recommended daily sodium values range from 1500 to 2300 mg). Restaurant meals may not come with food labels stuck to the plate, but that doesn’t mean their nutritional values don’t matter. Sometimes you’re better off with a quick and easy breakfast.

Rule #3: Pay Attention to Serving Sizes

food labels

Nutritional values on food labels are based on serving sizes, so don’t forget to check how many servings are in the package you’re about to consume. A 100-calorie snack can quickly become a 500-calorie snack once you glance at the upper right-hand corner of the label (where the number of servings is listed). Not to say that a 500-calorie snack is a life-ender, but if you’re picking up a Venti mocha frappuccino on your way to class everyday and wondering why you can’t lose weight, serving size may be the answer.

Do you read nutrition labels?

(Image via Thinkstock)