Being overweight leads to some 30 percent of new diabetes cases. Often, by the point of diagnosis people have spent years in the dark about their overeating habits or about how much the quality of the foods they put into their bodies affects their weight and health.

A new Agricultural Economics study hints that just by reading nutrition labels on foods, by taking the time and knowing what to look for, shoppers, especially women, make healthier food choices and maintain slimmer waists.

Researchers who analyzed data from a National Health Interview Survey that gathered 25,000 health, eating, and shopping observations found that women who read food labels weighed roughly nine pounds less than women who did not read food labels. The researchers also concluded that, in general, women tend to read food labels more than men and that smokers as a group pay little attention to the nutritional information listed on food labels.

What it Means

The label-reading “allows shoppers to improve diet quality by making more informed decisions in food purchases,” said study author Steven Yen, a University of Tennessee professor in the Institute of Agriculture’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Take-Home

No matter how rushed your shopping endeavors, try to give every item you toss into your cart a quick scan. Start by eyeballing sodium amounts especially carefully. The American Heart Association’s most recent recommendation is to consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily. To put that in perspective, one-half teaspoon of salt contains 1,200 mg of sodium (this is less generous than 2011 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans‘ recommendation of less than 2,300 mg for most people; less than 1,500 mg for adults who are 51-plus, black, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease). The average American consumes 3,436 mg of sodium daily, reports the USDA. So just monitoring sodium alone is a huge step in the right direction.