Check Nutrition Labels Before You Buy
Food manufacturers must declare nutrition values
Foods in the grocery store list nutrition information on the package in a section called the "Nutrition Facts."
This is where manufacturers must declare the nutrition (both good and bad) in each serving of their product. Nutrition Facts are broken down into easy-to-read sections. They are listed as follows:
Portion control is vital to proper weight management and a healthy diet, but food manufacturers don't always make it easy for us to figure them out.
One full package rarely equals one serving, and often what you think of as a serving is not what the manufacturers think of as a serving. The serving on the food label may not be the same as the serving size in your food plan or the serving size you normally eat.
If you eat twice the serving listed on the label, you would need to double all the numbers in the Nutrition Facts section. The information in the nutrition facts panel is for the serving listed. Remember that a serving size is based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Label reading is easy when a package states there are one or two servings. It's the fractions that will send you to the calculator.
The Daily Value Percentages are based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's suggestions that your diet be made up of 50 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fats, and 20 percent protein.
CALORIES AND CALORIES FROM FAT
Next, you'll see how many calories are in a serving and how many of those calories come from fat.
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you receive from a serving of food. Most people consume far more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of vital nutrients. The calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight (i.e., gain, lose, or maintain.)
Remember: The number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat (your portion amount). The General Guide to Calories provides a general reference for calories when you look at a Nutrition Facts label. This guide is based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
The top portion of the nutrient section are those that you wish to limit (Total Fat, Saturated fat, Trans fat, Cholesterol and Sodium).
These nutrients are the ones almost all of us eat too much of. Experts recommend limiting these Nutrients. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.
The amount and types (unsaturated, saturated and trans fat) of fats are shown on this part of the label.
The total fat is the number of fat grams contained in one serving of the food. Fat is an important nutrient that your body uses for growth and development, but you don't want to eat too much. The different kinds of fat, such as saturated, unsaturated, and trans fat, will be listed separately on the label. Trans fat numbers were the most recent addition and like saturated fat, should always be close to zero no matter how much fat you eat in a day.
Nutrition health experts recommend keeping your intake of saturated fat, trans-fats and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
Fat-free foods are not necessarily a better choice than the standard product, so read your labels carefully.
Next, the nutrient section lists carbohydrates, including dietary fiber and sugars.
Most Americans don't get enough dietary fiber and get far too much sugar. Some foods are naturally high in sugar. "No sugar added" foods means that no sugar was added during processing or packaging. But remember, they may still be high in natural sugars and carbohydrates.
For better health, ensure that the majority of your carbohydrates are in the form of fiber, not sugars (natural or added). Eating a diet high in dietary fiber promotes healthy bowel function and may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Next up in the nutrient section is "protein."
It is important to have enough protein in our diet to maintain our bodily structure. However, we don't need as much protein as many people think we need.
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. The truth is, we need less total protein that you might think.
Many plant-based foods like soy and legumes can give you the same amount of protein as meats but are much healthier as the protein is balanced with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber.
Vitamins and minerals
You can use the Nutrition Facts label not only to help limit those nutrients you want to cut back on but also to increase those nutrients you need to consume more of.
Be a wise buyer by educating yourself. Don't believe the hype on the front of foods. Go to where the real information is, the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel. Read and ensure you know what you're putting in your body, always!
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that information on calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C all be included on the Nutrition Facts label. Sometimes the food manufacturers will add information about other vitamins like niacin or folic acid if the product contains any significant amounts of those nutrients. Pay particular attention to vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. They're listed first. Most of us don't get enough in our diets.
Eating enough of these macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.
Lisa Tsakos is a Registered Nutritionist and educator specializing in weight management.
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