Learning how to read nutrition labelsMaintaining a healthy lifestyle has a lot to do with mathematics — a 300-calorie lunch plus a 100-calorie snack minus what’s burned during a 60-minute run on the treadmill equals one step toward losing one pound.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has a lot to do with mathematics — a 300-calorie lunch plus a 100-calorie snack minus what’s burned during a 60-minute run on the treadmill equals one step toward losing one pound.
Nutrition labels are the go-to for those interested in monitoring exactly what they’re eating, but to find them useful, it’s best to understand the numbers.
Fairview Red Wing Medical Center registered dietician Liz Knapp said when she turns an item around to look at its nutrition facts, her eyes start at the very top of the list.
“I look, No. 1, to the serving size,” Knapp said. “There’s 120 calories, but in how much?”
In conjunction with serving size, she checks out the calories.
“I always say calories in versus calories out,” Knapp said of what to keep in mind for losing weight.
A pound is made up of 3,500 calories, the dietician noted, so for people to slim down at a reasonable rate, between 500 and 1,000 calories should be trimmed from their diet every day.
How much is too much?
While weight loss may be all about the calories and exercise, maintaining overall good health means paying attention to many other parts of the nutrition label.
Near the top of the facts, sitting just beneath calories, is the amount of total fat. Most people understand that an excess of fat is not recommended. But with four different kinds to take into account, how can someone know what’s acceptable?
“You would like to stay away from both trans fat and saturated fat,” Knapp said. Yet, she added, “no fat is not good.”
The healthful fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which help with brain development — especially in children.
According to Knapp, an adequate amount of fat is 50 to 60 grams a day, so if something is showing much higher numbers — especially in trans or saturated fats — it’s probably best to put that item back on the grocery store shelf.
The unhealthful fats contribute to high cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. When reading labels for milligrams of cholesterol, the lower the better.
Easier isn’t always better
A fast-paced life leaves little time for cooking, and grocery stores have become chock full of various meals that are all ready to go — simply pop them in the microwave and that’s lunch.
But the easiest meals aren’t necessarily the most nutritious.
“The problem is that all of the food that is prepared — very high in sodium,” Knapp said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publish “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” every five years, and the latest collection suggests no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium be consumed on a daily basis.
People frequently sprinkle salt on top of meals without thinking twice, which makes it all the more important to search for low-sodium foods.
Sugar is one piece of a nutrition label that can be hard to interpret without reading other pieces as well.
For example, something may have 35 grams of sugar, but what matters more is where the sugar is coming from. Scanning through the list of ingredients can be helpful. Stay away from corn syrup, and instead, search for fructose, which is found in fruits.
Keep an eye out
As important as it is to know what to avoid, it’s also good to know what’s needed.
Knapp said she looks primarily for high amounts of fiber and protein.
“Dietary fiber is something most people don’t get enough of,” she said.
High-fiber diets can lower blood cholesterol, improve the digestive system and help someone feel more full without taking in extra calories. The Institute of Medicine suggests adult males take in about 38 grams of fiber a day and adult females aim for 25.
Grams of protein is another number on a nutrition label that’s OK if it’s high. Protein assists in building and preserving body muscle and tissues. In addition, protein can help a person feel full longer, thus keeping them from turning to unhealthful snacks shortly after a meal.