Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What to look for on Nutrition Facts labels

Many times, unhealthy habits don't come from a lack of interest, but rather a lack of knowledge and time to put knowledge to work. We're busy, and a week of school, work, and other activities can quickly pass by with another promise to do better "next time." Well, next time is here! The next time you head to the grocery store, keep this quick lesson in food package labels in mind so you can do better this time.

The Nutrition Facts label can be quite confusing. Its hard to determine what serving size is appropriate for our needs, the numbers don't always add up, and mixed messages make us unsure of what a healthy choice is. Here's how to make the most of your limited time in the store and ensure that what lands in your buggy is a good choice.

1. Total calories per serving. The number of calories listed on a package may not seem like a lot, until you realize that the package actually holds 2.5 servings! This is the case on many convenience-sized snacks such as chips, crackers, and mixed nuts. If figuring out how much of the package is a serving is too much trouble, ditch it and grab an apple instead!

2. Total fiber. Fiber is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but package labels will tell you how much fiber is in a food as well. Look for fiber especially in cereals, pasta, and other grain products. Fiber is important for digestive health and can go a long way in helping with weight loss because it helps you feel full longer. How much fiber do you need each day? Likely between 25-35 grams! Here's another vote for avoiding packaged foods...many of them are low in fiber.

3. Amounts and types of fat. Take a look at the numbers for saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fats and choose those that contain little saturated fat and trans fat. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy for you, but even those pack a lot of calories. "Fat-free" doesn't equal "calorie-free." Many fat-free and low-fat foods have added sugar, which brings us to our last highlight...

4. Sugar. Now commonly attributed for our national obesity crisis, sugar is a big bad dude. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends just 3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar each day for children. Four grams of sugar are equal to roughly 1 teaspoon. Take a look at the nutrition facts label and do some quick math to determine whether that box goes into the buggy or back on the shelf!

Nutrition facts labels are supposed to be helpful, not confusing. Take time this weekend to go through your pantry with an app like Fooducate that has a barcode scanner. It will "grade" your food and suggest healthier alternatives. Or, click here to use an interactive nutrition facts label tool that can teach you even more.

And as always, remember to log in to www.95210.org every day to track your family's numbers! 

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