Understanding Food Labels

Over the last few days, I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington D.C. to participate in nutrition policy work. Nutrition policy can be quite daunting. It is hard enough for us to know how to figure out the food rules that dictate our daily lives (“Eat this, don’t eat that”). One item governed by nutrition policy that may be present in your life, many times a day, is the food label. The label can be helpful in meeting your goals, whether you are aiming to increase, decrease, or just be aware of your intake of a number of nutrients.

Share with us!
Do you use the food label to help you decide what to eat?
a. Yes, I don’t eat anything until I have analyzed it!
b. Sometimes, it depends how I am feeling that day.
c. No, I don’t want to know!
d. No, there’s a label on foods?

Tell us, what is the first thing you look for on the label?

Is there anything you find confusing about the label and if so, what is it?

For those of you who answered EVERYTHING, here’s a few tips on reading the Nutrition Facts Label:

  • Notice how many calories are in the product you are choosing. Use a food tracker, such as the SuperTracker (https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx) to compare what you are eating to recommendations personalized for you.
  •  Compare labels to choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and higher in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.
  •  Take a look at the ingredients, which have to be listed in descending order. If you see sugar (or syrup) listed first, you know that the product has more sugar than any other ingredient.
  •  When buying cereals, crackers, pastas, and other carbohydrate rich foods, look for items that have whole grains (whole grain wheat flour, whole grain oats, etc.) as the first ingredient and more grams of fiber.
  •  Choose items lower in trans fats. Even if the label says 0 g of trans fat, look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list to see if there are hidden trans fats.

Enjoy your day!

March is National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month! Thus, advice columns and advertisements on what to eat and what to avoid are as plentiful as the forbidden indulgences on a Sunday brunch buffet. As we celebrate nutrition as a nation and attempt to digest all the news, it is important that we leave room to consider our individuality when it comes to food. What is your food style? How does the way you nourish yourself reflect who you are?

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy my young children, tend to a home, work with FemmePharma, and volunteer with other professional organizations—all at once. You could say that I like to pack things in, which means that I strive to be efficient in all that I do! When I take a moment to contemplate my eating patterns, I see that same tendency towards efficiency in the foods that I choose. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants such as dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, and broccoli), berries, sweet potatoes, and all colors and varieties of peppers, squash, melons, tomatoes, citrus fruits, grapes, apples, bananas—they are all the mainstays of my meals and snacks. Of course, there’s always green tea and dark chocolate, super dark for me, with health promoting properties as the added bonus to the pure enjoyment!

Why does it help to know how your food style reflects who you are? So that you can draw on your strengths when you need a little direction. For me, taking time to be aware of what I am eating can point out that here and there I may have slipped into some less-than-ideal food habits. I can use this to remind myself that I like to be efficient, to pack in the activities I enjoy and the foods that are nutrient-dense, those that offer the most nutrients per calorie.

Take some time this National Nutrition Month:

–        Celebrate the things about yourself that you like the most;

–        Be aware of what you choose to eat and consider how it helps to nourish you and support your lifestyle;

–        Consider the benefits of a healthy diet full of nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and lean protein;

–        Let your individuality guide you toward a healthy diet that reduces your risk for chronic disease and improves your health and wellness!

Enjoy your day!