Category Archives: food labels

Decoding food labels – Harvard

Much as we may want to eat healthy, it is unlikely that we have a diet that contains NO processed foods. The fact is that they are very convenient. Just open the package and pop it in – the oven – microwave – whatever. So, if we are going to eat them we ought to be able to decipher their labels. The following is from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
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Decoding the ingredients list on a food label

Being aware of specific ingredients in a food is a good general practice for everyone but may be especially useful for those with food allergies or intolerances, diabetes, or digestive diseases. In many cases, the longer the ingredients list, the more highly processed a food is. However, an ingredient that is not recognizable or has a long chemical name is not necessarily unhealthful. When scanning the Ingredients listing on a food package, consider the following:

  • The ingredients are listed in order of quantity by weight. This means that the food ingredient that weighs the most will be listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. [5]
  • Some ingredients like sugar and salt may be listed by other names. For example, alternative terms for sugar are corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, dextrose, malt syrup, molasses, or turbinado sugar. Other terms for sodium include monosodium glutamate or disodium phosphate.
  • If the food is highly processed, it may contain several food additives such as artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Their ingredient names may be less familiar. Some preservatives promote safety of the food by preventing growth of mold and bacteria. Others help prevent spoilage or “off” flavors from developing. Examples that you may see on the label include:
    • Preservatives—ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, tocopherols
    • Emulsifiers that prevent separation of liquids and solids—soy lecithin, monoglycerides
    • Thickeners to add texture—xanthan gum, pectin, carrageenan, guar gum
    • Colors—artificial FD&C Yellow No. 6 or natural beta-carotene to add yellow hues
  • Fortified foods contain vitamins and minerals that are added after processing. Either these nutrients were lost during processing, or they were added because they are lacking in the average diet. Examples include B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, niacinamide, folate or folic acid), beta carotene, iron (ferrous sulfate), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin D, or amino acids to boost protein content (L-tryptophan, L-lysine, L-leucine, L-methionine).

Ingredients used widely in the production of highly/ultra-processed foods such as saturated fats, added sugar, and sodium have become markers of poor diet quality due to their effect on heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. [6,7] It is estimated that ultra-processed foods contribute about 90% of the total calories obtained from added sugars. [4] 

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Reading food labels …

The information on food labels was updated recently by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I think they did a good job on helping the consumer to better understand the nutrients in food packages.

Below is an example of the updated label.

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On the left is the old format, one the right, the new. As you can see the Serving Size and Calories are now more prominently displayed. Additionally, the number of servings per container is also given. In the past many folks would read the calories without paying attention to the serving size or number of servings per container. For example, a package of potato chips might have told you innocently that there were 150 calories per serving. Not bad, you might conclude … if you weren’t aware that the package contained four servings, so, if you ate the whole bag, you were getting 600 calories.

Here are some tips offered by Rush Medical Center on reading the labels:

 

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Label food with ‘activity equivalent’ calorie info?

I think anything that engages the imagination can help us to understand things better. So, I really like this suggestion from across the pond published in The BMJ  to label food with the equivalent exercise to expend its calories to help people control their food intake and weight.

Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive at the Royal Society of Public Health, says giving consumers an immediate link between foods’ energy content and physical activity might help to reduce obesity.

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She explains that with more than two-thirds of the UK population either overweight or obese, “we desperately need innovative initiatives to change behavior at population level.” Yet little evidence indicates that the current information on food and drink packaging, including traffic light labeling, actually changes behavior.

The Royal Society for Public Health has therefore called for the introduction of “activity equivalent” calorie labeling. Continue reading

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Super Weight Loss Tips from Tufts

Regular readers know that I used to be overweight with a lot of bad eating habits. At my worst, I weighed over 220 pounds with a waistline of at least 44 inches. You can read how I made my first big successful swipe at that problem in How I lost 50 pounds in 52 weeks.

The past nearly eight years of writing this blog has raised my level of awareness into the stratosphere as far as weight control and healthy eating are concerned. But I always go back to the first principles of portion control and serving size. Tufts offers some super suggestions that will bolster your weight loss efforts going forward.

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Below are a few tips to ensure that you’re eating the right portion amounts:

– Most restaurant portion sizes are at least double or triple the portion you should be eating. As soon as your meal arrives, cut it in half and box up the other half. Take it home to have for lunch the next day.

– Serve food on small plates. Instead of using a dinner plate, substitute a luncheon plate or a salad plate.

- When eating at home, put a small portion of food on your plate, and keep the rest of the food in the kitchen. Then, if you want to eat more, you’ll have to get up to get it.

– Read food labels. When a package says that it contains more than one serving, measure out one serving into a separate dish.

- Avoid eating in front of the TV or while reading. Instead, focus on the tastes, textures, and aromas of your food. This can keep you from mindlessly munching your way to the bottom of a bowl of popcorn or bag of chips.

– Listen to your body’s hunger cues. Pay attention to feelings of hunger and fullness.

This last point is excellent. Don’t eat for reasons other than hunger. A pint or Rocky Road ice cream will not solve your emotional turmoil.

For more information on the connection between the heart and brain, consider purchasing  Heart-Brain Diet: Essential Nutrition for Healthy Longevity by Tufts Medical Report.

I have written further on portion control: A fresh look at portion control and portion distortion, How to Use Portion Control in Weight Loss and Maintenance, Get A Food Scale for Portion Control, Dining Out Portion Control Tricks from Weight Watchers, From “The Portion Teller.”

Tony

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Where Do I Find Hidden Sugar in My Diet?

Sugar, like other damaging white powders, salt, cocaine, can often be found in the most unlikely places. Locking down the top of your sugar bowl isn’t enough to save you from consuming too much of this sinful sweet.

WebMD has a super quiz that tests our “Sugar Smarts” which I recommend that you take as soon as possible.

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“Soda, fruit drinks and juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the No. 1 source of added sugar in American diets. (Emphasis mine) A recent study found that drinking one or two sugary drinks a day raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 26 percent compared with those who limit sweet drinks to just one a month.

“But sugar alone isn’t to blame for diabetes. Diets that are high in calories from any source, like sugar or fat, lead to weight gain — and being overweight raises your chance of Type 2 diabetes,” the quiz says in answer to its fifth question – where do added sugars hide? That’s all the spoilers I’m going to give you.

The American Heart Association recommends a total of six teaspoons of sugar a day for women and nine for men. In fact, Americans consume an average of 22 teaspoons a day. Those teaspoonsful have little nutritional value but load you up with empty calories. For more on empty calories, check out my Page – A Love Letter to Hostess Ho Ho’s – NOT.

Is it any wonder that 60 percent of us are overweight and 30 percent obese?

Please take the WebMD quiz and learn more about this very damaging ‘nutrient’ in our daily diet.

Tony

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Don’t Be Fooled By Food Labels!

Very helpful ideas on reading labels and being aware of serving sizes. I wrote up Sobe Green Tea for its sugar content, too.

Tony

Eat well, Live well

Many of us overlook nutrition labels on the back of products we consume because we either don’t want to take the time, don’t care what we are putting into our bodies, or don’t understand how to read them! Here are some helpful tips to reading labels that might surprise you!

  • Most of us overlook liquid calories, so you might not notice that Arizona Green Tea (yes, the cans that are usually 99 cents) has THREE serving sizes within ONE can. And to top it off, it also contains 12 teaspoons of sugar in just one can!
  • Snyder’s of Hanover Mini Pretzels contains 3 servings per bag as well! If you finish one bag, you have also finished about 1/3 of your carbohydrates you need in an entire day. Stick to the serving size: 20 pretzels!
  • You wouldn’t eat 4 apples in one sitting– but that’s the caloric equivalent of what’s…

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What are Sunrise Clusters with Greek Yogurt Chips from Costco?

Another trip through Costco, another fun healthy snack food found. I wrote about Sunrise Energy Bars back in November and recounted how much I enjoyed them as an energy boost on bike rides.

Apparently now comes the next chapter from the Sunrise brand. These are not bars, but just about bite size (slightly bigger) clusters of a granola-like substance. The package boasts ALL NATURAL, WHOLE GRAIN, OMEGA 3. As you can see from the photo, they come in a big tub and are not individually wrapped like a lot of energy products.

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For folks with little impulse control, here is my early verdict. I have snacked on a couple of them and liked the taste very much. They are very handy for a guy like me who tosses little snacks into a bag and brings them on bike rides for energy pick me ups.

The ingredients include: whole grain rolled oats, whole grain oat flour, cranberries, raisins, dried apples, apricots, almonds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, shredded coconut, non-hydrogenated canola oil, unsalted butter, Greek yogurt chips, sugar, palm kernel oil, yogurt powder, whey protein concentrate, nonfat dry milk, yogurt cultures, reduced mineral whey powder, lactic acid, soy lecithin, vanilla, brown sugar, honey, salt, baking powder, baking soda, tapioca syrup, natural flavor and cinnamon.

The nutritional breakdown is as follows:
Serving size 3 pieces (28 grams) which amounts to one ounce.
Calories 140
Total fat 8 grams
Saturated fat 2 grams
Cholesterol 5 mg
Sodium 75 mg
Total carbohydrates 15 grams
Fiber 2 grams
Protein 3 grams

Nutritionally, the Clusters are almost identical with the Sunrise Energy Bars:
Here is the nutritional breakdown for a single Sunrise Energy Bar of 28 grams:
Calories 130
Total fat 6 grams
Saturated fat 3 grams
Cholesterol 10 mg
Sodium 75 mg
Total carbohydrates 17 grams
Fiber 3 grams
Protein 2 grams

They don’t taste very different, either. So, it may come down to what shape you like your energy snacks in, bite-sized cluster, or slightly larger snack bar.

As far as function goes, I ride my bike almost daily here in Chicago. I take along snacks to boost my energy. When I take a break for a snack I try to limit my intake to about 50 calories so my body doesn’t get hung up in digestion. So, the slightly lower in calorie Clusters appeal to me.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Tony

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Filed under biking, calories, energy, energy bars, Exercise, food labels, portion control, portion size, snack foods, Snacking, Weight

How Does Sugar Affect My Body? CSPI

Because most nutrition labels give the sugar content in grams, here is the translation:

Grams to teaspoons: There are 4.2 grams of sugar in one teaspoon.

SUGAR

In case it isn’t obvious to you in the section – 385 Calories consumed daily from added sugars…. It is the combination of the four exercises mentioned: walking, basketball, biking and jogging to burn off those 385 calories, not any single one of them.

You can take a very cool quiz on sugar right now. I posted it earlier this week.

Tony

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February 28, 2013 · 8:24 am

What Foods Hide High Sodium ?

Make no mistake about it. We need salt (Sodium) to live. It is important for fluid balance, muscle strength and for our nerves to work. On the other hand, most of us suffer from too much of a good thing – salt. We need around 2000 milligrams a day and medical experts say that many of us should cut it to 1500. So, how do we get ourselves to consume too much salt? The answer for most of us is – unwittingly.

Much of the salt we consume is hidden in other foods, it doesn’t come from the salt shaker on our table at all.

WebMD gives a list of offenders starting with frozen dinners.

" a five ounce turkey and gravy dinner can pack 787 mg of Sodium."

” … a five ounce turkey and gravy dinner can pack 787 mg of Sodium.”

Some ready to eat cereals are big offenders, like raisin bran, but puffed rice and puffed wheat are sodium free, says WebMD.

Raisin bran can have as much as 250 mg per cup.

Raisin bran can have as much as 250 mg per cup.

One that surprised me was canned and bottled vegetable juices which seem like the essence of healthy eating. One cup of vegetable juice cocktail has 479 mg of Sodium.

Veggie drinks can be big offenders.

Veggie drinks can be big offenders.

WebMD goes on to list canned vegetables, packaged deli meats, canned soups, marinades and flavorings, spaghetti sauce, salty peanuts, pretzels, potato chips, ketchup, sweet relish. You can read them all at the WebMD link above.

The bottom line is that you really have to read food labels. That gives you a running start on protecting your health and controlling your weight. Also, you have to pay attention to serving size. A label may give an attractive-looking number, but if there are several servings in a package, you may be consuming more salt than you planned.

Tony

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Filed under calories, food labels, portion control, portion size, salt, snack foods, Snacking, sodium, Weight