When you are cruising the grocery store aisles, you probably flip over a few items to scrutinize their nutrition labels. But do you understand what you’re looking at?
The government is working on updating the label to reflect today’s nutritional concerns and include more realistic serving sizes, but that’s a long way off.
Until then, use figure above to help make quick, informed food choices that contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. Also, remember these helpful tips:
- Nutrition information is provided for one serving of a food or beverage. Many products contain more than one serving. If a serving size is one cup, and you eat two cups, then you must double the calories, fat, sugar, and other ingredients to get an accurate estimate of how much you’ve eaten. If you’ve eaten a smaller portion than what is on the label, calculate accordingly.
- Pay special attention to the amount of sugars (a type of carbohydrate~) in one serving. This is especially important if you have diabetes (or other health concerns) that require you to monitor sugar intake or the glycemic index of foods.
- Check out the amount of fat, especially saturated fat, in one serving. Fats contribute to many chronic health problems. Trans fats are also labeled because they are known to contribute to “bad cholesterol,” which contributes to heart disease. Choose foods that are low in trans fats. However, some foods, like nuts and avocado, have high fat content, but the source of fat is actually good for the body–it’s not a trans fat.
- Be aware that “0” does not mean zero! It means less than 5% per serving!
- In addition to understanding the nutrition label, take a look at the list of ingredients. If you cannot pronounce the words that are listed on a food label, it’s likely coming from chemicals and processed (unnatural) elements that are not healthy for the body. Some of the items you want to avoid include:
Preservatives including BHA, BHT, brominated products: may alter neurologic behavior and be carcinogenic
Artificial sweeteners: aspartame (equal), acesulfame potassium, sucralose (splenda), and saccharin: change your microbiome and increase your risk for diabetes
Diacetyl, an artificial synthetic butter flavoring in microwave popcorn: may inhibit amyloid destruction, increasing risk for Alzheimer’s
Hydrocarbons (pesticides PCB, DDE, DDT): carcinogenic and hormone disrupting
Soy and cottonseed oil, may be contaminated with glyphosate, and degrade into toxic aldehydes when heated
Dyes/artificial colors (e.g., red #40, blue #2, yellow dye no. 5, tartrazine : may increase hyperactivity in kids)
Food allergens – if you or family members have a known allergy to peanuts, wheat, soy, or gluten
Most of these are covered in my Culinary Medicine book, and in the REFUEL book for men.
If you are in a hurry and can’t take the time to read labels, be sure to avoid packaged (bag, box, or bottle) foods. Instead, buy fresh foods and “eat a rainbow everyday” (e.g., fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt) and stick to my BITES for immune protection.
Just work on this step by step. You don’t have to be perfect.
Also, choose water, tea, coffee or vegetable juices with no sugar added…and minimize fruit juices you don’t make yourself, in a blender!
Finally, comment on the new July 2015 the government nutrition information panel for food labeling. It makes a difference!