As a nutritionist, I have seen many nutrition trends come and go. We were once told that margarine is healthier than butter when in fact it did more damage in forms of cardiovascular disease. Today, we have many other trends pop up but are they actually good or just temporary? Will they backfire in a couple of years? As for nutrition trends, they will always be just trends. I like to use the old school method of what is good for my body and that is by simply reading the nutrition label. The USDA released a new label which will pop up on packages between now and 2021. I will guide you on how to use it for better health and weight loss!
Notice the calories and the number around them. The new label will have the calories, serving size, and servings per container in a bigger, bolder font. Calories are very important to take note of but even more important are the serving sizes and servings per container so that you can track how much you are eating. Most labels contain measurements in fluid ounces or milliliters, and ounces or grams. The most convenient way to measure out your serving sizes are via a scale or measuring cups and spoons. Both are a great investment for not only measuring foods, but also keeping track of how much energy you’re consuming. As you may have heard before, a calorie is not just a calorie, therefore counting calories for weight loss may be easy but may not produce the results you want. Identical foods such as a red apple will not have the exact same calories as the red apple next to it of the same weight.
Don’t confuse serving size with portion size. What happens when you are holding a pint of ice cream? Most people dig in and eat about half of it which is 2 servings or more. New serving sizes on the label will reflect an adjusted amount that most people consume but not as much as they should consume. This is great for simply knowing how many calories you consume in a sitting however it may backfire when you are trying to lose weight. For example, the current serving size for most ice cream is 1/2 cup, the new label will now reflect 1 cup. A container of soup that was previously listed as 1.5 servings will now be considered a single serving. Although the goal of these labels is to list realistic quantity, it doesn’t mean that you should eat the serving size listed. So, next time you grab a new labeled package, aim for half the serving size. To help you estimate what a serving size looks like without actually being there and holding your hand in the process, here are some tricks:
1 serving meat = size of a bar of soap.
1 serving cooked gran (pasta, rice, quinoa) = about the size of your fist.
1 serving of oil (olive, butter, coconut) = about the size of the tip of your thumb.
1 serving of nut butter = about the size of ping pong bowl
1 serving of cheese = size of dice
Use your knowledge on per package info to avoid a binge. Larger packages that can be consumed in one sitting will now be labeled with a dual-column that includes calories for both “per serving” and “per package.” This is only great for saving you some time to take out your calculator if you consume the whole package. It should be a wake up call for many who drink the 20 ounce soda (240 kcal) and full 7 ounce bag of chips (800 kcal) in one day. Packages that are much larger (3 servings or more) are unlikely to be consumed in one sitting therefore are not required to have a double column.
Embrace the new added sugars label! “Added sugars” are (yep, you definitely guessed it) sugars that are added to the product and don’t occur naturally unlike in healthy foods like fructose in fruit. As we now know that all sugars are not created equal, and many naturally occurring ones also contain different types of fibers to slow absorption, the label will now help you make a wiser decision. You will notice that pure products such as honey and maple syrup may have a cross-like symbol on the label statement detailing exactly what added sugars mean. These are some major changes that should encourage consumers to choose foods low in added sugars without demonizing foods with naturally-occurring ones. Bottom line, consuming excessive amount of added sugar can lead to weight gain, blood sugar surges and crashes, as well as other medical problems such as insulin resistance, so stick to foods that are sweetened naturally with fruit such as dates.
Be aware of which fats to skip on. We finally got over our fat phobia and welcome avocados, nuts, and seeds with open arms. The type of fat we consume matters a lot and that is an understatement. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are completely healthy, saturated fats should be limited, and trans fats should be completely avoided. Products containing less than half a gram of trans fat are allowed to labeled as 0g. The best way to look out for them is by reading the ingredient list for partially-hydrolyzed or hydrolyzed oils. The new label will no longer include calories from fat but will list “total fat”, “saturated fat” and “trans fat” to help you make wiser choices.
Hope you keep these points in mind when viewing a new label. Wishing you smarter and healthier food shopping. Ciao till next week!