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READING LABELS MAY HELP YOU WIN $500,000

Savvy supermarket shoppers could end up counting more than calories and fat content: They could bring home up to $500,000 in sweepstakes winnings.

The contest - fueled by the vision of heart-smart, multimillionaire Phil Sokolof - began Thursday in 20,000 supermarkets nationwide.Forget about Ed McMahon. A more fitting celeb for this promotion might be the bony model Kate Moss.

Here's how it works:

- Go to your supermarket's courtesy counter for an entry form.

- Answer five multiple-choice questions about nutrition. (Example: To be called "low-fat," must a serving of food contain 20, 10 or 3 grams of fat?)

There's a crib sheet, with (hint, hint) check marks next to certain "Nutrition Facts," on page 2 of the form.

- Mail in the form. Two winners are guaranteed from each state. Drawings will be conducted from among the entries with correct answers.

- Wait until late November or December to see if you've won. First prize is $500,000, second is $100,000 and so on, down to 250 prizes of $1,000 for a total of $1 million.

The sweepstakes is financed entirely by Sokolof, an Omaha, Neb., entrepreneur, heart-attack survivor and founder of the National Heart Savers Association.

"I'm for real," Sokolof said in a telephone interview. "I have my heart in this - and that's not a pun, it's the truth."

Sokolof was honorary co-sponsor of the bill, passed by Congress, requiring the "Nutrition Facts" labels on all packaged foods. The sweepstakes is designed to persuade consumers to read the new labels.

"This is a beautiful way for people to learn about the labels and have fun, and have a chance to win money besides," he said.

The 71-year-old Sokolof has battled food manufacturers and fast-food chains since 1984 in a well-publicized campaign against fat and cholesterol content.

"Label readers influence companies. If they lose 2 or 3 percent of their market share" because consumers complain about fat, sugar or salt content, "they change their product," he said.

The sweepstakes, which will run through October, is being promoted by full-page ads in more than 20 newspapers nationwide.

"I've got every major supermarket chain involved. They're all excited," said Sokolof. "There's nothing negative in this. Eat better foods and live longer."

Sokolof also is blitzing his nutritional message across New York City's blocklong Times Square billboard, former home of cigarette character Joe Camel.