Looking to put a delicious and healthy meal on the table, but don’t know where to start? It can be daunting, especially when – in the past – people associated healthy eating with bland, boring meals. It’s important to embrace a healthier way of life while finding creative and delicious solutions to maintain a nutritious diet.
The first step to eating healthier is BUYING healthier – and the best way to do that is to pay attention to Nutrition Labels. Don’t be intimidated by that panel on the back of food packaging. I’m going to break it down for you step-by-step to make healthy food decisions a breeze. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be on the path to a healthier way of eating without compromising taste!
Servings: “Serving Size” is the first piece of information on all Nutrition Labels. Under that you’ll find “Servings Per Container.” Don’t be fooled! There are usually more than one serving in that package of potato chips you’re scarfing down, which means more calories than you might think! To know the total calories (or any nutrient) per container, multiply the serving size by number of servings. For example, if the Serving Size is 1 cup at 100 calories per serving, and there are 3.5 Servings Per package, then there are 350 total calories per package.
Calories and Calories From Fat: The next piece of information displayed on a label shows how many calories per serving. It refers to the TOTAL amount of calories from all three macro-nutrients (fat, carbs and protein). The label also breaks it down to show how many of these calories come just from the fats, which are listed as Fat (dietary), Saturated Fat and Trans Fat. Dietary fat is essential to your health, since it supports many of your body’s functions. However, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat are potentially harmful if taken in large amounts. Saturated Fat can raise cholesterol levels, and Trans Fats raise unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, as well as lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. These can lead to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Nutrition Tip! The American Heart Association considers 40 calories from fat per serving to be low, 100 to be moderate and 400 to be high. This is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.
Daily Value: The rest of the information, after the initial calorie amount, is listed in grams or other units of measurement, which may confuse you. A helpful tip is to look at the “Daily Value Percentage,” shown to the right of each measurement. The percentages tell us how many of these nutrients we should consume each day, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
Nutrition Tip! Remember, Daily Value percentages are cumulative. Consider whether you’ll need more or less of a particular nutrient based on how much of the Daily Value you intend to serve at each meal.
Fats, Cholesterol, Sodium, Fiber and Sugar: These next components of nutrition labels are also key. Fats, sugar and sodium might be harmful to your health if taken in excess, so you will want to monitor and keep these to a minimum.
Nutrition Tip! Keep your fat intake under 20 grams, sodium below 300 milligrams and sugar under 10 grams. This will help you maintain a more balanced diet.
Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin and mineral content per serving are also an important factor when choosing which brand to buy. Like the “Daily Value” section, these are listed in percentages per serving, based on how much is recommended per day. So if you see there’s only 10 percent of the vitamin C you need in that smoothie you’re going to have for breakfast, be sure to make up the daily value in the other meals you eat that day, and/or compare the amounts of vitamins and minerals in various brands to make healthier purchasing decisions.
Now that you have the lowdown on Nutrition Labels, healthy grocery shopping and cooking for your family will be easier. I’ll have a little more about harmful chemicals, preservatives, and additives to watch out for next week.
Would you like more support with healthy cooking and meal planning? Become a Personal Chef Approach member. Among many benefits, you’ll have direct access to my advice and a whole community of support in our forum to keep your family healthy and their taste buds happy. I’m a strong believer in creating meal solutions that are healthy AND delicious. You should be able to have your cake and eat it too!
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