If you are like me, snacks help you get through the day. When grocery shopping, I try to find new and healthy snacks. After picking up some scrumptious looking granola bars off the shelf, I typically look at the nutrition label. The first thing that I look at is the calorie content. Although being aware of calories can help you maintain your weight, it doesn’t determine whether something is necessarily healthy. There are other pieces of information that you should take into consideration.
Looking at the serving size first will help you accurately evaluate the rest of the information on the nutrition label. Let’s say that you decide to have cereal for breakfast. You flip the box over to see that it has 200 calories. That doesn’t seem too bad, right? Next, you look at the serving size. The serving size tends to be smaller than what the average person eats. The serving size for this cereal is 1/3 cup. Most people pour their cereal into a bowl without measuring it. This could turn those 200 calories into looking more like 400 or 500. You’re less likely to overeat if you are aware of the serving size. Instead of digging your spoon straight into a pint of ice cream, consider scooping out 1/2 cup and putting it into a bowl.
THE NUMBER OF SERVINGS
The next important number to look at is the number of servings per container. Some foods look as though they would be enough for only one person and then turn out to have a serving size of more than one. Take a bottle of juice or soda, for example. It’s likely that it is more than one serving. You may not realize that a 20 ounce drink tends to have 2 1/2 servings in it. Knowing the number of servings in a meal can help you control your portions. If the label on a frozen pizza states that it feeds four people, you can cut the pizza into fourths and only eat one slice (if you have self-control).
On nutrition labels, there are “daily value” percentages listed for macronutrients. These percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie a day diet. Not everyone sticks to this calorie intake, therefore it is best to look at the number of grams. Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., the author of Legally Lean advises that woman in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who are active, get 60 to 80 grams of protein each day. Dorfman recommends aiming for 5 to 15 grams at breakfast and 15 to 30 grams at lunch and dinner. If you work out in the morning, your body may require more protein. Snacks should have between 5 and 12 grams of protein.
Dorfman says not to completely avoid fat because it helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Healthy women, who work out, do not need more than 40 to 60 grams of fat per day. She says to eat meals with less than 15 grams and snacks with less than 10 grams. You also should take notice of the type of fat. Ditch food with any trans fat. When it comes to saturated fat, limit yourself to 6 grams a day.
CARBOHYDRATES AND FIBER
The nutrition label will list the total carbohydrates as well as how many carbs come from fiber and sugar. Carbohydrates are important because your body uses them to burn fat. Look for carbs that come from fiber. Dorfman recommends getting at least two grams of fiber per every 100 calories. A study conducted by Cambridge University found that at least one gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbs was a healthy rule of thumb.
By figuring out how much sugar is added to your food by food manufacturers, you can help yourself avoid the hidden ingredient linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. On the label, sugar is only listed as a total amount. It’s easiest to look for added sugar by finding ingredients that end in “ose”. Examples of added sugar include glucose, fructose, and dextrose. To find a list of other hidden sugars to look out for click here.
It’s not necessary for you to analyze every ingredient in the food that you’re about to eat, however, it would be helpful to be aware of what to look out for. In general, look for shorter ingredient lists with words that you actually understand. Ingredients are also listed in order of how much is in the product. The first ingredient listed will be the primary ingredient in the product. There will be less of the ingredients listed at the end of the label in the product. If you see a type of sugar or enriched flour (white flour) listed as the first ingredient, beware.