You also can pick up the delicious recipe of the week. This week the recipe is Confetti Wraps. Don’t forget to collect all 22 of the recipe cards and bring them back to the last market day for a chance at the grand prize drawing. Also pick up the recipe card, make the recipe, take a picture, and post it to our facebook page to be eligible for INSTANT market bucks!
Label Reading 101, our first lesson on label reading educated us on how to understand the serving size, calories and amount of fat values that are listed on the nutrition facts label. We know to be aware of individually packaged food items like chips because they often come with this hidden message: “You got served…twice!” It’s also important to look at the bigger picture, such as amount of added sugars or sodium, when selecting an item with reduced-fat or fat-free labeling.
Today, we’ll tackle some of the other important nutrient information that is posted on the label:
Carbohydrates. Total carbohydrates is a very important value to monitor, especially if you are a diabetic and need to watch your carb intake. Remember, the gram amount listed is per the indicated serving size of the product. I know what you’re thinking—isn’t sugar more important to observe? When it comes to carb-counting, it is more important to look at the total carbohydrates number. Fiber and sugars are indented underneath this value because they are components of the sum of total carbohydrates in the food item. The other missing components are starch and sugar alcohols, which are not required to be listed. It is a good idea to compare the sugar content when looking at two like items. One cup of Cheerios contains just one gram of sugar, while one cup of Frosted Flakes packs in almost 15 grams of sugar. Clearly, the Cheerios would be the better choice in this scenario.
Fiber. Did you know that the average American needs at least 25 grams of fiber per day? Fiber is a wonderful nutrient that can help control appetite, improve feelings of fullness, help reduce cholesterol levels, promote a healthy colonic environment and possibly help improve blood sugar control. It can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and nuts/seeds. Choosing healthy foods includes incorporating foods that are high in fiber. When looking at the label, try to choose foods with at least three to four grams of fiber per serving. Make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of water if consuming foods that are very high in fiber such as beans, legumes or fiber-fortified cereal products, such as Fiber One or Fiber Plus.
Sodium. When you think of someone who needs to watch their sodium intake, we typically think of Uncle John, who had a heart attack last year, or your neighbor, Jess, who has had two kidney stones. In reality, everyone should be monitoring sodium intake. A good rule of thumb is to limit meals to no more than 600 mg of sodium. Keeping up with these recommendations becomes very difficult when consuming a lot of processed food items. Choosing fruits, vegetables and fresh lean proteins are easy ways of consuming foods with lower sodium contents. Using fresh spices and herbs is another way to add flavor and zip to our meals without adding to our sodium intake. Check out this article on finding the herb/spice that’s right for you.
Calcium. Individual calcium needs range from 1000 mg to as much as 1500 mg per day. A common question is, “how much calcium am I consuming if it’s listed as a percentage on the food label?” Here is a little secret: add a ‘0’ to the percent value listed for calcium and that is how many milligrams the item contains. For example, one eight ounce serving of almond milk reads it has 45% of calcium; this means it contains 450 mg per eight ounce serving. Keep in mind that calcium is the only nutrient this trick applies to. When monitoring calcium intake, remember that your body only absorbs about 500 mg in one sitting. This is especially important for individuals who are taking calcium supplements and monitoring calcium intake.
“Sugar-free.” Become more aware of sugar-free products as this “health halo” tricks a lot of us. Many studies have found that when people perceive an item to be healthier, such as foods with low-fat or sugar-free on the label, we tend to consume larger portions of them. Using Calorie King, I compared Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Russell Stover Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cups.
Peanut Butter Cups
2 pieces (1 pkg)
Peanut Butter Cups
One important message to take away from this is that sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free or calorie-free. If you are someone who is monitoring your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to always check the labels, whether an item is sugar-free or not.
Reading food labels is very important for monitoring your nutritional intake. Some of the best foods for us don’t even have a label: fruits, vegetables or fresh proteins. Try to do most of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store and limit purchases from the center aisles for improved nutrient quality of food choices.
Reading food labels can be very advantageous; you can find information on serving sizes, calories, amount of fat, calcium content and many other nutrients. However, if you’re like most people, reading food labels can become quite overwhelming. I’ve had a family friend tell me that she doesn’t read food labels because there is too much information on there. I began reading labels when I was in high school. Unfortunately, the only thing I looked at was the amount of fat
The truth about food labels.
and paid no attention to the rest of the information provided. Just like everyone else, I could have used a little help from a Label Reading 101 course.
Label Reading 101
“Reduced fat” and “fat-free”
Serving Size: The serving size of a product is located at the very top of the nutrition facts label. This is the foundation for all the nutrient information because all the numbers listed below are pertinent to that listed serving size.
I want to make a little side-note; serving size ≠ portion size. Serving size is the amount recommended on the food label; portion size is the amount you actually serve yourself. For example, not many people actually measure their cereal in the morning; rather we pour until we think we’ve got the “right amount” in our bowl. The serving size of most cereals is ¾ cup. As an experiment, pour the amount of cereal you normally have and then measure out your portion to see how closely your estimates are to the recommended serving size.
Calories: Calories is the first bolded item found on the label. The calorie amount shown is based on the listed serving size. Keep in mind some products may contain several servings per container. In this case, you may see two columns of information: one indicating the calories per serving, and one for the entire container. You will often see this format on candy, chip and beverage containers. “Calories from fat” is a little unnecessary. It’s more important (and, to be honest, much easier) to pay attention to total fat and its other components (saturated, trans and unsaturated fats) instead of monitoring “calories from fat.” Below is my explanation of this.
Fat: The total fat value is a sum of all the different types of fat in that product. Nutrients that are indented under a bolded item means that they are components of the total value. Saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all make up the total fat value. Saturated fats and trans fats are the types of fats to consume less of in the diet. Try to find products with no more than three grams of saturated fat per serving and no amounts of trans fat.
Sometimes, we get turned away from a food item because the fat content is much higher than other products. For example, peanut butter has a fat content of 16 grams per two tbsp serving size and a four ounce serving of salmon has around 12 grams of fat. However, these total fat values are mainly composed of the healthy fats that we strive to get in our diets; mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This is why looking at “calories from fat” can be misleading. The value listed doesn’t indicate if those are calories from good fats or the unhealthy fats. An example of an unhealthy fat is Chili’s nachos on their appetizer menu; just four chips with all the toppings contain almost 30 grams of fat and over half of that is saturated fat (aka the kind of fat that is not kind to our waist lines).
Labels that say “reduced fat” or “fat-free”: Many people purchase these types of items like fat-free salad dressing or reduced-fat peanut butter because the label makes it sound like they are healthier options. Unfortunately, in many cases, they’re not. One solid piece of advice to remember is fat-free does not mean “calorie-free.” Often, the fat-free or reduced-fat options of foods have almost the same amount of calories as the regular version. Sometimes health halos accompany food labels with the words “fat free” on it. This means that people tend to consume larger portions of the food because they believe that it is healthier than the regular version. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience on this one.
Another important piece to remember is that fat flavors our food. When fat is taken out of product, it is often replaced by extra sodium and extra sugars which doesn’t necessarily make a healthier food product. Reduced-fat peanut butter has twice the amount of sodium in it compared to regular peanut butter. Fat is important in our diet; we especially need it to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) which are often found in our non-starchy vegetables. This is why fat-free salad dressing is not the best choice to make. If you don’t have any fat in the meal, your body will have a hard time absorbing the vitamin K from your spinach or the vitamin A from the raw carrots in your salad. Stick to a vinaigrette; they spread easily and your portion sizes tend to be smaller.
When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released, they featured three key messages for consumes to focus on: 1) balancing calories, 2) foods to increase and 3) foods to reduce. Sodium and added sugars are the focus of the third message: foods to reduce.
When addressing sodium content in the diet, the most common thing I hear is “I don’t salt my foods.” While this is an excellent practice to follow (because a ¼ teaspoon of salt contains about 600 mg of sodium), many people do not realize how much sodium is in the food products they commonly consume. The guidelines recommend we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Intake should be further reduced to 1,500 mg/day if you are age 51 or older, have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease and those at any age who are African-American. What’s alarming is the 1,500 mg recommendation actually applies to about half of the American population (including children and most adults).
Your first course of action should be to start reading food labels. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep sodium content of meals to less than 600 mg. You can find this information on the food label. Pay attention to serving size and the amount of sodium per serving. One reason why sodium is added to foods is to act as a preservative. Canned, frozen and pre-packaged foods are all potential sources of high-sodium products. Another reason sodium is added recipes is to soften products; this is why breads contain higher amounts of sodium. Sodium also occurs in foods naturally.
A 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains 600 mg of sodium.
Here are some common culprits containing high amounts of sodium:
Frozen Meal Entrees: Choosing a single-serving, low-calorie frozen meal may seem like a good idea, but often these meals are loaded with too much sodium. Even the “healthy” frozen meals may contain too much sodium for one sitting. While it’s perfectly fine to have these convenient options once in a while (preferably ones with less 600 mg of sodium), your best bet is to pack your lunch consisting of a lean protein, whole grain and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Soups: All varieties contain sky-high amounts of sodium. One serving (8-oz) of chicken noodle soup contains 850 mg of sodium and we typically eat more than one serving! Adding a half cup of oyster crackers increases the meal sodium content to 1,000 mg! Look for reduced-sodium varieties the next time; most brands are now making these options more available.
Cheese: One 1-oz slice of American cheese has 417 mg. This is one of the reasons why pizzas, cheesy macaroni and sandwiches have such high sodium levels. Your best pick for cheese is real Swiss (50 mg/ slice) or cheddar cheese (150 mg/slice)–not the individually wrapped, extra-processed varieties.
Instant Cooking Foods: Any foods that require you add hot water typically contain high amounts of sodium. This includes ramen noodles (noodle mixes), potatoes, rice (packaged blends), some cereal, puddings, biscuit, cake mixes and more.
Condiments: Soy sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, salad dressings and bouillon cubes may add a lot of flavor to dishes, but with this flavor comes a lot of sodium. Look for salt-free seasonings like garlic powder (not garlic salt!) or any Mrs. Dash seasoning blend.
Choosing fresh, minimally processed foods is your best offense for reducing your sodium intake. The DASH meal plan (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) focuses on choosing foods with minimal amounts of sodium.