We can make a commitment to promote vegetables and fruits and whole grains on every part of every menu. We can make portion sizes smaller and emphasize quality over quantity. And we can help create a culture – imagine this – where our kids ask for healthy options instead of resisting them.
~ Michelle Obama ~
When it comes to eating healthy, choosing fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats should always be a priority. One of the most important part of a food label are the ingredients. If you cannot pronounce what is in the product then why eat it!
Real food doesn’t come in a box, have a shelf life, or have a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce. If you are on a diet that is mainly sourced from pre-packaged foods then you need to change your eating habits.
However, there are times when packaged foods are part of a nutritious diet. The trick is how to incorporate them into a healthy diet. It is not impossible if you learn how to understand the Nutrition Facts on the package so you can make a decision in terms of how healthy the food is inside.
Decoding the Nutritional Label:
1. Serving Size: Serving size is always the first item on the label. The information below is based on that particular serving size.
2. Servings Per Package: Will tell you know how many portions are in the package. What you need to be aware of is that in many cases there can be more than one serving per package.
3. Calories: This is the amount of calories per serving. What you need to keep in mind is not how many calories but where the majority of the calories are coming from.
4. Calories From Fat: This is the amount of calories that is from fat.
5. % Daily Value: The percentage of the recommended daily amount tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, based on a 2000-calorie diet. To make it simple, if you want to consume less of a nutrient choose foods with a DV of 5% or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient choose foods with 15% or higher. The daily values are set by the government and do not take in to consideration an individual’s nutritional or activity needs.
7. Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat: To maintain our health we need all three types of fat. For a general healthful diet, keep saturated fat and cholesterol low and avoid trans fats altogether. Try to stay away from foods that have the words “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” in the ingredients list.
8. Cholesterol: Cholesterol plays an important role in maintaining our health such as making steroid hormones, vitamin D, and bile for digestion. Only 20% of our cholesterol comes from food while the rest our body produces on its own. You should aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.
9. Sodium: This is the amount of salt in a serving. To keep your salt intake in check, consider products in which the sodium content is less than or equal to the calories per serving. The type of salt is also important, there is a difference between bleached and processed sodium and natural sea salt. The sea salt has a larger range of minerals.
10. Total Carbohydrates: The total carbohydrates explain the fiber and sugar content in a serving. Generally you want to avoid foods that are high in sugar and low in fiber as these offer very low nutritional value. Aim for foods that have 5 g of fiber per serving, or at least one gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrate. Be aware of foods that have added sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, corn sugar, fructose, or high-fructose corn syrup among the first three ingredients. Other hidden names for sugar include agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, and glucose. I always find it interesting when you add the sugar and fiber grams and they do not equal the total carbohydrates. Makes you wonder what the filler is for the extra!
11. Protein: This tells you the amount of protein per serving.