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What’s Really in Your Food?

What’s Really in Your Food?

Reading labels is truly a form of dietary self-defense. To fully understand what you’re consuming, it’s crucial to read and interpret the labels on those packages.

Assess the Nutritional Label:

1. Look at Serving Size: Packages frequently contain more than a single serving, which means that you may have to multiply all of the amounts listed to get an accurate picture of how many calories is in a single container.

2. Check Calorie Count: Although calories are only part of the picture when it comes to reading labels, they’re vital to help you determine appropriate portion size. The standard daily caloric intake guidelines for adult women are: 1,800 – 2,200 calories and for adult men are: 2,200 – 2,500 calories. (Physical activity causes variations in calculations). So, you will approximately take one-third of your daily calorie intake if you choose a food with 700 calories per serving.

3. Avoid Enemy Fats: Trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL), lower good cholesterol (HDL), and slow your metabolism. Look for foods with zero trans fats, but be aware of the following:  If a product contains less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving, it can be listed as containing zero trans fats. And in case if you’re eating multiple servings per day, those trace amounts can really add up.

4. Minimize Sodium: The recommended maximum daily intake of sodium is 2,300 mg per day (about one teaspoon) for healthy people, 1500 mg per day for people who are above 40 or suffer from hypertension. Consuming excess sodium is correlated with hypertension because it draws in water, which increases blood volume, which in turn increases blood pressure and thus may cause atherosclerosis.

5. Choose Carbs Wisely and Avoid Added Sugars: Carbohydrates are often demonized in the media, but in truth they are very important source of energy. The key thing to know is that complex carbohydrates found in natural, fibrous foods like fruits & vegetables are infinitely better for you than simple carbohydrates like refined sugar.

6. Get Your Fiber On: The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 g of dietary fiber for adult women and 38 g for adult men per day. Fiber helps prevent big swings in blood sugar, keeps your colon healthy, and best of all, it makes you feel full – so you eat less!

Interpret the Ingredients:

1. Stick with Short Ingredients Lists: The first items on the list make up the bulk of the food since they are listed in order by weight.If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients, put the product back on the shelf! Choose foods with no more than five ingredients. Lengthy lists are usually a sign that a product has unnecessary extras such as artificial preservatives.

2. Look for Sugars with Nutritional Benefits: White sugar is highly processed. Instead of white sugar, look for less-processed sugars such as:
• Brown rice sweeteners, which usually include fiber
• Honey, which contains beneficial antioxidants
• Molasses, which contains trace minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium
Note that even though these types of sugars have more nutritional value than other processed sugars, they’re still sugars, and should be kept to a minimum.

3. Be Aware of “Hidden” Sugars: Sugar can cover up under many different names. Look for dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, sucrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, beet sugar, corn sugar, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, isomalt, maltodextrins, maple sugar. These all are high-calorie, low-nutrient, added sugar.

4. Look for Whole Grain Breads: To maximize your fiber intake, look for whole grains in the ingredient lists and so if you don’t see the word “whole” before the name of a grain, it’s not a whole grain. “Enriched flour” is not a whole grain product; it is the same as white flour and has been stripped of fiber.

5. Know that Ingredients May Change: Even if you’ve been buying a particular product for years, it’s still a good idea to glance at the ingredients list every once in awhile. Things change! For example products which were once dairy-free may now contain whole milk powder. This may seem inconsequential, but if you’re sensitive to dairy it is important to know.

It is definitely worth it to take a moment or two to understand what you’re really putting into your body.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon



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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian