With the holidays upon us, nutrition often takes a backseat. However, understanding the nutrition label is a great way to stay on top of your health this winter. Here is a crash course to help you make informed food choices.
The serving size is the amount of food from the packaging that has been determined as appropriate. For example, if the package contains more than one, say two or even three and- a-half servings, then you’ll need to do some math to determine the calories and nutrients.
This might be the most familiar part of the nutrition label. Calories are a measure of the energy found in foods. Energy needs vary from person to person and are determined by factors such as your sex, age, current weight and activity level.
Protein is made of amino acids, which are the building blocks of many things in our body like cells, blood, muscle tissues, etc. When it comes to weight loss, protein can help preserve our muscle tissues and maintain more of our healthy weight so that our body has what it needs to start burning up fat. Some studies show that about 4 oz. of lean protein – like lean ham and skinless chicken or turkey, fish or lean cuts of beef that are prepared with low fat cooking methods – can help maintain our skeletal muscle tissue.
Carbohydrates & Fiber
Carbohydrates are a source of energy for our bodies that come from either sugars or starches. It is best to look for carbohydrate choices that are high in fiber like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains. Use the simple equation below to help determine higher fiber options, which can help with hunger and leave you feeling more satisfied.
Total carbohydrate divided by total fiber. The results of this equation will show us whether or not the food is a healthy choice. Greater than 10 = AVOID. From 5-10 = OK. Less than 5 = IDEAL (this food is a good source of fiber).
It’s not fair, but fat gets a negative reputation. Not all fat is considered dangerous; however, fat is the most energy dense of the macronutrients needed for survival: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Look for items with heart healthy fats (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) and avoid saturated and trans fat. Healthy fats are found in olive, canola or peanut oils, olives, avocados and nuts.
Today, sodium intake is typically well above ideal levels in the United States. Most Americans consume 4,000 - 6,000 mg of sodium each day although guidelines suggest consumption should be as low as 1,500 mg per day. Since the ideal sodium goal is difficult to meet, you may be more successful simply cutting back on salt.
Here are a few tips:
- Rinse your canned vegetables.
- Use herbs and spices instead salt while cooking – try salt-free seasonings.
- Limit fast foods and eating out, restaurant meals can contain a day’s worth of sodium in one meal!
- Consider baking or grilling your own meat for sandwiches instead relying on deli meats.
Remember, a few small changes can make a big difference in managing your weight and your health. It only takes a few minutes to read a nutrition label, even less now that you know what to look for.
Interested in learning more? The Tallahassee Memorial Bariatric Center is available at TMH.ORG/Bariatric or 850-431-5404.