Good Nutritional Choices
Importance of understanding the label
Make a splach with good nutritional choices by Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., F.A.
Ah, the joys of summer! As the weather warms, we’re likely to head out to the pool, shore or hiking trail – often with lunch and snacks in tow. But if you’re not paying attention to what you toss into your picnic basket or your backpack, these longer days could lead to a bigger waistline.
When it comes to making good food choices, one of the best skills you can master is being able to read the nutrition facts panel – and it’s a habit that should be practiced all year long. And if you want to maintain that beach body, you’ll want to pay some attention to the labels before you pack up your snacks and head out for some summertime fun.
Label reading is an art and a skill – but a little knowledge gives you a lot of power. You’ll want to start by noting the serving size that’s listed on the package, because all the nutrition facts that follow are based on that serving size. Many people assume – often incorrectly – that small packages of cookies and crackers, or medium-sized beverage containers, are single servings. But here’s the catch: for labeling purposes, an “official” serving of a beverage is 8 ounces, but many drinks come in much larger containers. Guzzle a 16-ounce bottle of sweetened tea, and you’ll be: drinking two servings—which means you’ll need to double all the information on the nutrition facts panel to figure out how much calorie damage you’ve done.
Fats, carbohydrate and protein are also listed on a per serving basis, so the same calculation applies – make sure you know how many servings you’re consuming so you can estimate these nutrients appropriately.
In addition to Total Fat content in grams, the nutrition facts panel also tells you how many calories are provided by fat , so you can do a quick calculation in your head to estimate the percentage of calories that are coming from fat . If the nutrition facts tell you that a food has 200 calories per serving and 135 calories from fat, you can see right away that more than half the calories you are eating are provided by fat!
The Total Carbohydrate listing also tells you the amount of carbohydrate per serving and, just below that, the amount of dietary fiber and sugars per serving. Keep in mind that the sugar listing includes natural sources (such as the natural sugars in milk or fruit), so it’s not always easy total where the sugar is coming from without looking at the actual ingredients. A bran cereal with raisins, for example, may have little to no added sugar, but the amount of natural sugar in the raisins will be reflected in the amount sugar on the nutrition facts panel.
Daily Values (or DV) are standard values established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on food labels. The DV is used to compare how much each serving provides of a particular nutrient to the amount that is recommended per day. But, the DV is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, and that may not apply to you. Even so, you can still use these values to see if a particular food is high or low in a nutrient that you are interested in, and you can also use this information to compare products for nutrient content.
Sometimes it helps to visualize how much fat or sugar a food contains before you decide whether or not you want to eat it. So here is some “food for thought”
Every 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon. A 16-ounce bottle of sweetened tea might have 60 grams of sugar – that’s 15 teaspoons, or just shy of 1/3 cup!
Every 5 grams of fat is a teaspoon (about the size of a pat of butter). Consume an ent ire small can of creamy soup and you might down 30 grams of fat – equivalent to 6 pats of butter!
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