Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

Posts tagged ‘fiber’

Label-Reading 101


Having been a label reader for decades, it never occurred to me that there would be so many people who never do it. In my clinical work at the hospital, I educate people on diets they need to follow, and label reading is always a component. I am surprised at how many people are being introduced to the concept for the first time.

There are a few important things to know, right off the bat:

  • All nutrition information is not on the label. The important ones, as they relate to dietary restrictions, are listed.
  • Don’t assume the counts listed are for the whole package. The amounts of nutrients in the food item are stated per portion. You need to also look at how many servings are in that package, measure against how many portions you are consuming, and do the math to get the actual count.
  • There is a nutrient panel, and an ingredients section.

At some point in most people’s lives they will be told they need to restrict a certain element or ingredient. Being prepared will make the transition less difficult. Let’s now delve into the world of label reading.

THE NUTRITION FACT PANEL:

First you will find the serving size and the number of servings in the container. This is where the math is important when calculating how much of nutrient you are getting. If the container holds 2 servings and you eat the whole container, you need to double the numbers in the nutrition listing.

The next fact is the calories (again, per serving), and how many of the calories are from fat.

The next section addresses fat/cholesterol, sodium, carbs, protein and several vitamins and minerals. The information is stated in grams (g)) or milligrams (mg) and as a % of the recommended daily value. Assuming about 3 meals per day, the total of all you consume for that meal would ideally not exceed  one third of your daily value, particularly in calories, fats and sodium. Let me dissect the subsections for more useful information.

Fats are all not created equal! Healthy fats include mono saturated (like olive oil), polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats. These are the most likely to be in liquid form at room temperature (many oils). Unhealthy fats are saturated, with trans fats being the most unhealthy.  These are usually solid at room temperature (think of butter, lard, shortenings). Healthy fats raise HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Conversely, saturated fats do the opposite, clogging the arteries with fatty deposits that can lead to the blockage of blood flow. Blockages put one at significant risk for heart attacks and strokes. Make it a point to avoid any foods with trans fats, also listed in the ingredients as partially hydrogenated oils. Cholesterol is a type of fat that our bodies also produce. Currently, there is conflicting thought about the ingestion of cholesterol causing high cholesterol in the blood. Some now believe that the saturated fat causes our bodies to produce more cholesterol.

Sodium (the main carrier is table salt) is everywhere! Sodium is an electrolyte, important for the regulation of many bodily functions, but Americans consume unhealthy amounts of it. Long used as a preservative, it is used in canning, processed meats (hot dogs, cold cuts, etc.) baked goods, pizza, restaurants, prepared supermarket foods and more. Even if you never lift a salt shaker, chances are you are still getting too much sodium. It is hard to avoid unless you prepare all your food at home, from fresh ingredients. Too much sodium raises blood pressure, putting a strain on the arteries and other body functions. It leads to heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, breathing difficulties, edema (swelling and water retention). The recommended daily amount in an otherwise healthy individual is no more than 2,200 mg per day, but less is better. For those already afflicted with maladies affected by sodium, 1,800mg or fewer is the recommendation.

Carbohydrates, which include fiber and sugar are listed in the next sub section. Counting carbs is especially important for the diabetic. We will not cover this here as the subject is far too complex for this post. There are 2 basic kinds of carbs: simple and complex. Simple sugars (many of the ingredients listed with an “ose” at the end) absorb quickly into the bloodstream, causing spikes in blood glucose levels. This in turn floods the bloodstream with insulin, beginning an erratic spike and lowering of blood glucose levels, which is taxing on the body in a variety of ways. In contrast, complex carbohydrates (found in fiber and whole grains, not refined) absorb more gradually, lessening the rapid spiking and falling of blood glucose levels. This longer acting reaction supplies steadier energy and less fat storage. (Unused energy from carbs is stored as fat.) So look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. More is better. Stick with whole grains vs. refined – explained further in the next section.

Protein, vitamins and minerals are listed next. This is more informational, and less of an issue when watching certain potentially harmful elements.

The last section is the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, from most to least. Study the list for partially hydrogenated oils (and reject foods with this ingredient), extra sugars (look for the suffix “ose”), additives that are unhealthy preservatives, etc. (again, this is another whole topic). If you have allergies, study this section carefully to learn if the contaminant is present. You need to learn all the names by which your allergen goes, to ensure you don’t ingest it. Many packages now state if the product is made in a facility that makes other products with the more common allergens like tree nuts, peanuts, milk, etc. Look for whole grains in your breads. If the listing says, “wheat flour”, it is not whole. It needs to say whole wheat. Corn, quinoa and oats are whole grains.

Well that about wraps up Label-Reading 10. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Just post to comments.

 

The New Year and Resolutions: Change the Paradigm


The most common greeting this time of year is “Have a happy and healthy new year.” Is this just a knee jerk reaction to the overindulgence of the holidays or a well intentioned attempt to just pay attention to our health since we are a year older and a year closer to death?

However well-intentioned our resolutions are, they are often short-lived. Life is busy, stuff happens, you lose motivation when you lose only 2 pounds a week, etc. This doesn’t mean that there is no way to achieve a healthy weight. It just means you are either going about it the wrong way or that you have unrealistic expectations. Here are some tips to help you achieve your health goals in 2013.

1. REPEAT AFTER ME: There is no magic diet that will sustain weight loss

Even bariatric surgery doesn’t work if you don’t comply with a rigid protocol. While there are many who do well on this program, it is by their choice – not because they had a “magic” operation. Diets are temporary. Lifestyle is permanent. Change your lifestyle – change  your health.

2. Health is more than eating right. While diet is an important part of good health, so is exercise, not smoking, and getting enough sleep. Studies show that sleep deprivation messes with your hunger and satiety hormones, making you crave bad foods and disconnecting the “I’m full now, stop eating” button. Exercise improves all bodily functions regulating appetite, metabolism and sending oxygen to all you cells. It also reduces stress – another trigger for poor eating (think “comfort food”). Muscles built by exercising utilize more calories than fat. Yes, if you sit on the couch after a workout, your body will burn more calories than if you stand around while unfit.

3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your mother was right. Your body has been at rest for 8 or more hours since last being fueled. Your metabolism has slowed down. A healthy breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism for the whole day! That’s right! Skip breakfast and your body never revs up, keeping metabolism slow all day, to protect energy (and fat). A healthy breakfast includes a protein, a carb and some fat. Protein and fat keeps you satisfied longer so you aren’t hungry for lunch prematurely. Carbs are needed for brain and muscle  function. (Did you know that your brain lives on glucose, broken down from carbs?) Just make your carbs healthy ones – whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, cream of wheat, bran flakes, etc. Look at the labels to be sure the grains are whole. “Multigrain” does not mean whole. The ingredients must say “whole” to derive all the nutritious benefits of a whole grain: protein, fiber and the slow release of carbs, keeping your blood glucose from spiking.

4. Drink, drink, drink. Dehydration is more common as we age because our thirst mechanism starts to fail. Don’t rely on thirst to be sure you get enough fluid. Even a small amount of dehydration affects your ability to perform well at any task, may lower your blood pressure to unhealthy levels and make you constipated. Also important is that the need for fluids often masquerades as hunger. You reach for food when in fact you need fluid. The amount of fluid needed varies from person to person but a good rule of thumb is 8 glasses per day. All liquids count (even coffee and tea) and many foods contain fluid. Fruit contains a lot of fluid (think oranges, watermelon, etc.). BUT BEWARE. Not all drinks are created equal. Those flavored mocha latte whatevers have a high calorie and fat count. Be smart about how you get your calories. Reserve them for foods that also carry nutrients with them – not empty calories like junk foods.

5. Eat slowly. People who eat slowly consume fewer calories because they give the body a chance to register fullness. Scarfing down your food before the signal comes means you are already too stuffed.

6. When you eat out, order a takeout container when you order your meal. Putting aside half the meal before you even dig in will cause you to stop before the plate is empty.

7. Use smaller plates. Psychologically, a full plate is more appealing. Loading a large plate with a reasonable portion may make you feel less satisfied. Go ahead, fill that bread and butter plate with healthy food and you can clean it without guilt.

8. Eat more meals. Eat three modest meals each day, with a small, nutritious snack between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. You will be less likely to overeat at any meal because you won’t be as hungry. Skipping a meal has the double negative impact of making you ravenous and slowing your metabolism. Don’t skip meals to manage weight. Studies have shown time and time again, that those who eat small, frequent meals and eat breakfast, weigh less than their peers who starve and binge.

9. Read labels and record what you eat. I can’t emphasize this enough. Awareness of what you are putting into your mouth is the secret of those who lose weight successfully. We think twice before downing a handful of nuts when we know how many calories and grams of fat are in them. If we choose to eat them, and record them, we have a better handle on what we can consume the rest of the day.

10. Follow the 80/20 rule. If you are careful about what you eat 80% of the time, you can safely indulge the other 20% of the time.

Have a happy and healthy new year!

 

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