Do you eat organic, homemade, whole and fresh food all the time? It’s OK; you can admit that you don’t. We don’t either; but we try! It turns out, especially in our fast-food culture; hardly anyone has time to eat right all the time. Here at Wheel House, we value baby steps, and an incremental approach to healthy eating. One small way to make a change towards healthier eating is to pay attention to food labels, and a food’s Nutrition Facts. Here are the top 5 things you should pay attention to when it comes to the Nutrition Facts of a food item:
1. % Daily Value
On the right hand side of a Nutrition Facts label, there is a “% Daily Value” listed for each nutrient. As a general rule, a % Daily Value at or close to 5% is low and anything at or close to 20% is high. And of course, the higher the better when it comes to nutrients!
2. Serving Size
Serving size is listed at the top of a Nutrition Facts label, usually underneath the title. Notice what the actual serving size is, and how that compares to how many servings are within the package. Often, a package contains more than one serving, which means if you consume the whole thing (as I often do!) you are eating a higher quantity of each nutrient. To find out how much of one nutrient you are actually eating, simply multiply the amount per serving by the number of servings you eat.
Some recent studies show that saturated fat is not closely linked with cardiovascular disease. Well this disrupts current views! To be safe, you should still try to eat less saturated fat and choose foods that are rich in “healthy” fats, like Omega 3 fatty acids. The Nutrition Facts will list a “Total Fat” amount and a “Saturated Fat” amount. If you subtract the saturated fat from the total fat you get the amount of healthy fats you are eating. Yay for healthy fats! The higher in healthy fats your food is, the better.
Almost every American eats at least twice the amount of daily recommended sodium. So, we recommend choosing foods that have close to a 5% daily value of sodium.
5. Total Carbohydrate
There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple (aka sugar) and complex (starch and fiber). If you are eating complex carbohydrates–whole grains, root vegetables (NOT including white potatoes; try to steer clear of those if you can!), legumes/beans, etc.–you’re on the right track. The first step is to cut down on simple carbohydrates, which contain one or two molecules of sugar, and cause spikes in blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates are the best kind, especially un-refined choices that are in high in fiber. To understand how much fiber is coming from your carbohydrates, subtract the fiber content from the total carbohydrates. What’s left is the amount of carbohydrates you are eating that aren’t providing you healthy fiber; ideally, this number should be low.
In general, we don’t eat enough fiber. Women should try to eat 25 grams per day of dietary fiber and men should shoot for 38 to 40g per day. To help achieve these goals, try to choose foods that have at least 5g of fiber per listed serving and a percent daily value closer to 20%.
Most people know that they need to try to eat less refined sugar – but a sweet tooth is hard to kick! Keep in mind that fruit juices and dried fruit are also filled with sugar, even if they are unsweetened. Juice has many servings of fruit at once, and without the fiber, so it’s essentially just a sugar blast to your body. Dried fruit can be dangerous because it’s easy to eat a lot of it, without realizing you eating loads of sugar. If you eat 5 dry apricots, you are eating five whole apricots! Would you do that if they were fresh? Probably not…
Lastly, a word about ingredient lists. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity; the ingredient that has the highest quantity in the food will be first. So if you are eating applesauce and ‘apples’ is the last ingredient on the list after a string of things you cannot pronounce, you may want to re-consider your choice. Here are some ingredients to look out for, and stay clear of:
- Hydrogenated oils (avoid them)
- High fructose corn syrup (avoid them)
- Ingredients you cannot pronounce (avoid them)
- “Whole” grains/flour (Eat them! Especially if they are listed in the first 3 ingredients)
Stay tuned for more nutrition tips, recipes, and fun ways to bulk up your healthful eating routine!