stock photo of a person reading nutrition facts
With warming temperatures, your exercise and diet regime may be intensifying. Picking up the right food at the grocery store goes a long way toward a healthy diet.
Carly Zimmer, a registered dietitian-nutritionist at OSF HealthCare, recommends flipping over the food package and looking at the nutrition facts. The black and white text box will probably blend into the background, but knowing how to interpret the numbers is key to choosing the right bunch.
“Reading labels can be very difficult when you first start out, especially when it comes to a new diagnosis,” says Zimmer. “But when you have a rhythm and know what foods are suitable for your diet, it becomes easier. It becomes a habit.”
From top to bottom
Zimmer has a primer on the main points of the nutrition facts box:
- Attendance: This pranks people so often that even comedians joke about it.
The size does not almost always meet the full package. A box of crackers can contain five servings. Or when comparing foods, make sure the serving sizes are similar or do the math to make them so.
“Meeting a size doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the part you have to stick to,” says Zimmer. “He can be a good guide. But ultimately, pay attention to what the serving is because if you’re eating more or less than the designated serving, you need to adjust the rest of the nutrition facts.”
- Calories: Diet experts say 2,000 calories a day is the common measure. But, Zimmer says everyone’s caloric intake is unique, and a dietitian can help you. So when you see calories listed on a food label, map the number to your needs.
- Fat: This category can be crowded with words like “Total Fat,” “Unsaturated Fat,” “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat.”
“Saturated fat is anything that comes from an animal product. High-fat dairy products, cheese, high-fat meats and butter,” says Zimmer. “Unsaturated fat is things like olive oil, nuts, nut butters and avocados.”
Choose foods that are higher in unsaturated fat over saturated fat, says Zimmer. Foods with saturated fat can increase bad cholesterol.
Trans fat is a manufactured fat, especially hydrogenated vegetable oil. It increases the shelf life of food but it is a fat you want to avoid as it can also increase bad cholesterol. Pastries and biscuits are examples of foods high in trans fat.
But here’s the tricky part: foods can be labeled “Trans fat free” – on the front or in the nutrition facts – if they contain .5 grams or less per serving. So you might eat a few servings of food labeled “Trans fat free” and think you’re in the clear. But in reality, you only add a few grams of trans fat to your body.
Work around: look at the ingredients for “Partially hydrogenated oil.” That’s a sign that the food contains trans fat.