This is the second in our series on label reading. Last time we discussed the ingredient lists; today we are going to tackle the Nutrition Facts Chart. This is where the truth is told, and it is essential that you understand it. Changes are coming to the labels in the next year, and we will talk more about those, but for today, let’s look at what we usually see.
The first line is “Serving Size.” This is what the manufacturer thinks is a reasonable serving. It may not be the serving size you use. If you eat several servings, all the values below will increase. There is a measurement, and a weight in grams. Count 30 grams as one ounce. So if the serving size is one cup and the weight is 245 grams, then one cup weighs just over eight ounces. If the serving size is 45 grams, that would be one and one half ounces.
The next line tells you the servings per container. Smile at this. If it says 2 ½ servings per container, think about how you will divide them up and what you will do with the extra half serving! This tells me that the manufacturer wanted to get pretty numbers in the rest of his chart, so he changed the serving size to fit his preferred numbers. Get realistic about how much of this product you are supposed to eat, or will want to eat, or will feel compelled to eat.
The next line contains calories. Your dietitian counts your calories for you, but you may want to look at comparing the calories in your various food choices.
Now we come to the biggie: fats. For many years, we have been told to eliminate as much fat as possible from our diets. That advice was incorrect. The current recommendations are that we should have 25% to 35% of our calories as fats. Too little fat in your diet causes many problems for the body, because fat is used to make hormones, skin, hair, nails, and other body tissues. If you follow a low-carbohydrate food plan, or a plan that eliminates certain carbohydrates, that means your fat (and protein) servings may need to be larger than you used to have. Let your dietitian specify for you how much added fat you should have at each meal. Too little fat can be worse than too much, in some cases.
There are five kinds of fats listed on the label: total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat. Saturated fats usually come from animals – the fat around a steak or pork chop, Crisco, etc. They are hard at room temperature. They raise total and LDL cholesterol. We want less than ten percent of your calories to be saturated.
Trans fats are fats that the manufacturer has changed. They may also be called “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list. They are to be avoided. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. These changes are associated with increased risk of heart disease. Trans fats are in the process of being eliminated from our foods. If it says 0 grams of trans fat on the label, there may be up to 0.5 grams of trans fats. If you are having several servings, you may get a significant amount. Be careful with these.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and come from plants. These are the ones you want to emphasize in your diet. Olive oil, canola oil, and corn oil are all good choices. Try to choose foods with twice as many of these fats as of saturated fats. (Just remember you want more of the longer words!)
Adjust your serving size to match the number of grams of fat you are supposed to have. If a food is cooked with spray fats or a small amount of fat, you do not need to count it. If it is cooked with a larger serving of fat, we estimate that ½ the fat used is on the food and ½ is in the pan.
Are there times when you want a food containing fats that are not good for you? Of course. You are allowed to have these; 10% of calories can contain these foods. But focus on the healthy fats when you have the choice.
This is hard and complicated, I know. And sometimes scary too. Please comment and tell me if this was clear; and ask me your questions below.
Blessings to you,