At most grocery stores, there’s an entire aisle dedicated to bread. You may just go right for your favorite brand, or choose whichever loaf is on sale this week, but you probably don’t think too much about it. A loaf of bread is a loaf of bread, right?
Wrong. But you won’t find the most important differences by glancing at the packaging. After all, a loaf of bread probably wouldn’t sell very well if it had a big sticker that proclaimed “High in Sugar!” on the side. If you want to eat healthy foods, you have to look at the labels, whether you’re buying bread, soup, or canned peaches. FastMed goes through the categories you’ll find on most labels, so you know what to look for.
Serving Size – You want to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples here (no pun intended), so this is your first stop. If you’re looking at multiple brands or types of the same thing, check to see that the serving size is the same. In most cases, it is, which eliminates the need for any complicated math. As you look at the serving size, think about how many or how much you actually eat in a sitting. For example, a bag of chips may seem like it isn’t too bad for you, but a serving size is probably quite smaller than the amount you eat on your couch during a movie.
Calories – This is an important number, but it’s definitely not the be-all and end-all. The total calories comes from the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in the item, but these aren’t created equal. A gram of fats provides nine calories, while a gram of carbohydrates or proteins provides four calories. That’s why many labels list calories from fat as well. Calories from fat should equal grams of total fat times nine, because each gram of fat is nine calories. In general, you don’t want to have many calories from fat.
Fat– Total fat is typically broken down to show you the two worst types of fat – saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat raises your cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that you get no more than 5-6% of your daily calories from saturated fat, but in general, the less the better. Like saturated fat, trans fat raises your bad cholesterol (LDL), and it also lowers your good cholesterol (HDL) when it is created through partial hydrogenation (as most are). The Mayo Clinic notes that if a food has fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fat, the company can round down and write 0 on the label. Check the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oils to make sure you’re not getting any trans fat.
Cholesterol – In the past, experts recommended that you keep this number down, but the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans writes that “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol, consistent with the AHA/ACC (American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology) report. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” So don’t worry so much about this number.
Sodium – This new report does, however, single out sodium as one of the two nutrients Americans are overeating. (The other is saturated fat.) The American Heart Association recommends that we consume fewer than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. Too much sodium is linked to the development of high blood pressure, which 90% of Americans will develop in their lifetimes. The average American consumes more than double the recommended amount – a whopping 3,400 milligrams per day.
Carbohydrates – Although they get a bad rap, carbohydrates make glucose, which your body converts into energy. There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Sugars are simple carbohydrates, and they can be either naturally occurring or added ingredients. Naturally occurring sugars are found in many foods, including fruit and dairy products, so you shouldn’t automatically exclude a food item because it’s high in sugar. You want to avoid added sugars, like corn syrup, brown sugar, juice concentrates, honey, sucrose, etc. Check the ingredients to see if the sugar is added or naturally occurring. Dietary fibers are complex carbohydrates. This is good stuff, and Americans greatly under consume it. The more fiber, the better!
Protein – Protein provides lots of benefits, and it (along with fats and carbohydrates) is one of the three macronutrients. Unlike the other two, though, your body doesn’t store protein. You have to make sure you’re getting enough protein on a regular basis, since your body will excrete any extra when you urinate.
Vitamins and Minerals – Just like dietary fiber, the more you get of these, the better! It would be very difficult to get a harmful quantity of vitamins and minerals through diet alone. Ideally, you should take a multivitamin every day to ensure that, in addition to making healthy food choices, you’re getting enough vitamins. If you’re doing that, then you don’t really have to worry about this part of the food label!
So, to make it simple, you want more protein and fiber. You want less saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar. If you’re comparing two similar products, focus on those numbers and you’ll be able to make a smart choice.
Are you concerned about your diet? At FastMed Urgent Care, we can check your cholesterol and blood pressure to make sure that you’re on the right track. If you want to make major changes to your diet, you should always speak to a physician first. FastMed Urgent Care is open at convenient times and has all the capabilities of your primary care physician. Come see us today!