The supermarket aisle is packed with appealing titles - low fat, reduced calorie, 'low carb' - but how do you choose the healthiest option? Your best bet is to turn the package over and look at the nutrition fact panel, which the Food and Drug Administration requires on almost all food items, except for meats. Compare different brands' nutrition information to find out which brand offers the healthiest choice:
- Serving Size: Start here to be sure you're comparing the same serving sizes between competing brands, and to know how many serving sizes are in the package. Serving units usually appear as the number of pieces or cups, followed by the metric equivalent, such as grams. Compare the serving size against how much you usually eat. If the label counts one slice of bread as a serving size, but you use two pieces of bread for a sandwich, double the label information if you are tracking your daily nutrients.
- Calories and Calories from Fat: calories measure how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Eating too many calories per day will result in weight gain. To maintain a healthy weight, the American Heart Association recommends that you choose foods that have 30% fat calories or less for one serving.
- Nutrients to Limit: Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium increases your risk for heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure. These nutrients are listed towards the top of the label; most Americans eat adequate amounts or too much of these. To help maintain a healthy weight, limit these nutrients. High sodium intake can affect blood pressure and limiting sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams per day is a healthy choice.
- Nutrients to Increase: Nutrients listed on the lower portion of the nutrition label help improve health and reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Be sure to increase the quantity of these nutrients in your diet: dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. High fiber content fills you up, reducing your desire to snack.
- Percent Daily Value (%DV): This section is a based on a 2000-calorie diet, and provides a helpful point of reference. An individual's daily values may be higher or lower, depending on calorie needs. For healthy eating, limit total daily intake of fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol to less than 100% DV. Conversely, average 100% or more DV for calcium, iron, vitamins A and C and dietary fiber. No daily reference percentage is included on labels for trans fat, sugars and protein. For these nutrients, choose the brand with the lowest unit amount.
Reading nutrition labels can be time consuming. However, once you compare brands and select the most nutritious option, you will know which choice is the most nutritious, making future shopping trips a breeze AND improving your eating habits.
See the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's website for additional information on nutrition labels.
For additional shopping tips, any GIC member may check out Health New England's website. There you will find a virtual grocery store tour on reading labels, choosing better fats, shopping for cereal, bread, margarine/butter and meats. Members of Health New England can order a comprehensive shopping tour video or CD-Rom free of charge. HNE's registered dietician guides members through each aisle in the grocery store and gives suggestions on how to make the best food choices for overall health and well being. Tips on healthy and tasty food preparation are also included. Health New England also offers live, interactive grocery store tours to its members. HNE members interested in additional grocery store tour, VHS tape or CD-ROM details may call 1-800-842-4464, extension 3031.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.