Nutrition know-how

2_NutritionSome of the healthiest eating you can do starts with a trip to the grocery store. With aisles and aisles of food options, though, how can you be sure you are making the best selections?

Your success strategy should always begin with a plan. Decide what meals you’ll be cooking during the week and make a list of the ingredients you’ll need. If you’re not in the habit of planning out meals, at least try to categorize your options so that you’ll have healthy food on hand when it comes time to eat.

Also, never go to the store hungry. It’ll be a lot easier to stick to your list or your plan if you aren’t distracted by an empty stomach. You’ll make better food choices overall and won’t succumb to the temptation of junk foods like chips and sweets.

Next, try to limit the bulk of your shopping to the perimeter of the store, meaning the aisles that include fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and other flash-frozen fruits and vegetables. These are going to be your healthiest options and the best base for creating nutritious meals at home.

Figuring out food labels

There is a lot of information presented on food labels—so much so that it can be difficult to evaluate the nutritional value if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It should be easy to determine how many calories there are in what appears to be a single-serving snack, based on the face value of calories listed on the label, right? Not so. Many times, the serving size in the container could be two or even three times that, which could put you way off on your calorie counting.

Kathy Barry, registered dietitian for the City of Kansas City, Mo., is an expert at deciphering labels. She offers the following advice for decoding them for yourself.

What are some “red flag” ingredients on nutrition labels?
Hydrogenated fats of any sort and “sneaky” sugars like dextrose, sucrose, maltose and fructose—it’s all sugar! A little sugar is fine. A lot of sugar is not fine. We just don’t need it and we quickly store it as fat when we cannot burn it.

Is it more important to look at sugar content, fat content or calories?
It is all important. What is really important is to know what a good fat is versus a not-so-good fat, like canola oil versus hydrogenated vegetable oil. It is also good to try to keep grams of sugar below 30 to 50 grams per day, which is easier said than done.

Why are ingredients listed in a particular order on the label?
The primary ingredient is listed first. This means the product contains that ingredient the most. The ingredients following that are listed from what the product contains the most of to the ingredient in it the least.

What are the most important elements on a label?
Basically, a label needs to include portion size, portion calories and the breakdown of how many grams of fat, protein, carbs, sugar and fiber. Sometimes there is so much information on a label that it gets overwhelming and confusing.

What would a healthy label look like?
Fewer ingredients. Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food is a good rule of thumb. Also, keep in mind that simple foods, like apples, chicken and broccoli, do not need a nutrition label. They are what they are.