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Six tips to ‘quick scan’ food labels

March 13, 2010
By CAROL TOMLINSON, community health educator for HealthLink Littauer

Detailed nutrition labels are supposed to make it easier for you select healthy foods. But sometimes they cause information overload and confusion.

For instance, is it more important that something has fewer grams of fat or fewer trans-fats? Are you better off getting fewer calories even if it means getting fewer nutrients?

The Arthritis Foundation of America, in its Just Diagnosed magazine, offers these six tips you can use to "quick scan" those labels for the numbers that matter most.

1.) Focus on the fats. "Look for products with less than 1 gram of saturated fat and no trans-fat," Jennifer Vimbor, registered dietician with the Nutrition Counseling Service of New York, said. She also recommends that if you are trying to lose weight, you look for foods that have less than 3 grams of fat per serving.

2.) Fill up on fiber. Preliminary research indicates that a high-fiber diet (25 or more grams per day) lowers cholesterol and helps in diabetes prevention. A high fiber food has at least 5 grams per serving.

3.) Watch serving size relative to calorie count. You should always look at how the manufacturer's serving size compares to what you typically eat. For example, if you eat twice the amount of a serving size, you also will be getting twice the amount of fat and calories.

4.) Skimp on sodium. A high-sodium diet, like a high-fat diet, may put you at risk for high blood pressure. Experts recommend keeping your sodium at less than 2400 milligrams (mg). Recommendations for those who already have high blood pressure are even less.

5.) Skim the ingredients: The main ingredients are listed first, so check out the top three or four. Remember, some ingredients can sneak in under different names. If sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup or high fructose corn syrup are near the top, you may be getting more sugar than you bargained for.

6.) Look for must have ingredients: Nutritionists recommend calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and flax-seed oil. They also recommend that you consider foods high in antioxidants like Vitamin C and A, which are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Scanning labels may be time consuming at first, but it's well worth the effort in health benefits. Once you become familiar with the foods that have the highest quality and the best flavor for you, the time needed for scanning will diminish significantly. You may just feel better too.

For more information on reading food labels, call Littauer's Outpatient Nutritional Counseling at 773-5413.

For more information, call HealthLink?Littauer at 736-1120, e-mail healthlink@nlh.org or visit its Web site at www.nlh.org. People also can visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext., Johnstown, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 
 

 

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