Do you know what is in the food you eat? Would your mother or grandmother recognize it as food? Reading the ingredients is a great place to start when picking up a food label.
When I ask if people are reading food labels, most would answer yes. It is clear that each person is looking for some thing or some things. But I find that many aren’t sure exactly what the information means or why they are looking for certain items.
The first lesson is to eat foods that don’t come in a box – an apple is just an apple. But, of course, it is not realistic to say that we won’t eat anything out of a box, so it is important to know what you are eating. When choosing foods in a package look for those with ingredients you can understand. A great resource for evaluating food additives can be helpful to understand what you are eating. But even more simple, look for foods with few ingredients. If there are only 3-5 ingredients in a food you are eating a bit closer to nature.
The nutrient facts panel on the back or side of a package can be helpful because it gives you just that, facts. It tells you the calories, the amount of carbohydrate fiber, sugar, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. But what does that actually mean to you? Do you know how many calories you need to eat in that meal or in your day? Do you know how many grams of fiber are recommended or how many grams of fat your body needs?
Here are some basic facts about the nutrient facts that I find to be helpful:
Calories – figure out how many you need in a day – using the choose my plate or another food tracking website. You can then make the calorie information more meaningful as part of your day.
Fat – Most of us should consume about 30% of our diet from fat. So, if you need 2000 calories per day that equals 600 calories from fat or approximately 67 grams of fat (600/9 calories per gram). Now when looking at a food label you can determine if the quantity of fat in that product is too much. In addition less than 10% should come from saturated and trans fats so bring that down to less than 22 grams per day of saturated and trans fats.
Carbohydrates, sugar and fiber – About 1/2 of our calories may come from carbohydrates. That includes fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. When looking at the facts look for carbohydrate rich foods that have at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving and those with less than 5-10 grams of sugars.
Protein – Did you know that protein is the component in our diet that the recommendations are based on our body size not just on the portion of our diet? Most of us need a little less than half of our body weight in protein. So if you weigh 200 lbs. your body needs about 80 grams of protein each day. Check your labels and see how the foods you are choosing fit into that goal.
Lastly, remember that all the other information on the package is marketing. It is there to encourage you to buy the product. Think critically and don’t be swayed by all the hype.
Know what you are eating and you will be one step closer to your healthiest body.
Lynda Binius Enright, MS, RDN, LD, CLT
Be Well Nutritional Consulting
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