By Julie Anderson
Health and Wellness Center registered dietitian
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — To promote healthy food selections for your family, the Peterson Health and Wellness Center has developed a “HAWC Approved” labeling program at the commissary, with the help of store director Andrew Brookes.
Many HAWC clients say that trying to decipher a nutrition label seems like learning a foreign language, and that comparing multiple labels doubles their time in the grocery store. So, to take some of the mystery out of healthy food selection, a bright yellow “HAWC Approved” label was added to aid shoppers. All “approved” products have met a series of guidelines to assist in promoting healthy weight in addition to disease prevention.
A person can take label reading to various degrees, and while many families cannot afford to purchase organic-only foods, free range meats, or have the time to make everything from scratch with no added preservatives, the labeling system uses basic guidelines to accommodate the greatest range of shoppers.
When relying on packaged or processed foods, picking the “right foods” is a bit trickier than when relying on whole foods in their natural forms. Ideally, a healthy serving of food is low in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition, the ingredients list should be short and understandable. Since ingredients are listed from largest amounts to smallest amounts, ensure the first three ingredients are not partially or fully hydrogenated fat, high fructose corn syrup or other added sugars, or “enriched” grains versus “whole.”
The following tips encompass the HAWC Approved labels guidelines:
Check servings and calories. Look at the serving size and how many servings you are actually eating as the portions listed are typically smaller than what most people actually eat — 300 to 600 calories per meal is appropriate dependant on your gender, frame, and activity level. Choose snacks with no more than 200 calories per serving if weight loss or maintenance is your goal.
• tip: If you eat two servings of a food, you will consume double the calories and double the percent Daily Value of the nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts label.
Make your calories count. Look at the calories on the label and compare them with the nutrients they offer.
• tip: When you look at a food’s nutrition label, first check the calories, and then check the nutrients to decide whether the food is worth eating.
Percent Daily Value. Use it to help you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. As a general rule, five percent DV or less is low and 20 percent DV or more is high.
• tip: Keep these low: saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.Get enough of these: potassium and fiber, vitamins A, C, and D, calcium and iron.
Know your fats. All fats should be consumed in moderation, but it is important to understand the difference between those which are adversely related to heart disease and cancers and those which are considered “good or essential fats” due to their health benefits. By avoiding or looking for foods low in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol, you will reduce your risk for chronic disease. Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils or Omega 3 fatty acids, which actually support heart health. Incorporating healthy fats into your diet, in moderation, is the best way to reap the health benefits of these oils.
• tip: Fat should be in the range of 20 percent to 35 percent of the calories you eat with less than 7 to10 percent coming from saturated fat. If a product has more than 5 percent total fat per serving, ensure the majority of fats are derived from mono and polyunsaturated sources; avoid all trans fats. Lastly, try to fall below 200 milligrams of cholesterol at the end of the day to maintain a healthy heart.
Reduce sodium (salt); increase potassium. Research shows that eating less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (about one teaspoon of salt) per day may reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Older adults tend to be salt-sensitive. If you are an older adult, or salt-sensitive, you should aim to eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day — the equivalent of about 3/4 teaspoon. To meet the daily potassium recommendation of at least 4,700 milligrams, consume fruits and vegetables and fat-free and low-fat milk products that are sources of potassium. These foods include sweet potatoes, beet greens, white potatoes, white beans, plain yogurt, prune juice and bananas.
• tip: Most sodium you eat is likely to come from processed foods, not from the salt shaker. Read the Nutrition Facts label, and choose foods lower in sodium and higher in potassium. Choose foods with less than 300mg of sodium per serving and less than 600mg per meal to fall within the recommended range at the end of the day.
Eat more fiber. Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber. If you are trying to lose weight fiber will help you feel full. Also, a diet that contains fiber (especially soluble fiber) and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. So look for high numbers in the fiber column.
• tip: Look for foods with greater than three to five grams of fiber per serving. Fiber can actually delay the digestion of the rest of the food on your plate which keeps you full longer and delays the release of sugar into your blood stream. Aim for 25 to 38 grams of total fiber daily.
Eat less sugar. Foods with added sugars may provide calories, but few essential nutrients. So, look for foods and beverages low in added sugars. Read the ingredient list, and make sure added sugars are not one of the first few ingredients. Whenever possible, choose whole fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables over canned, dried or juices, as these are typically concentrated sources of natural or added sugars with minimal fiber. Since every four grams of sugar is representative of one teaspoon of sugar, diabetics should strive to consume foods with approximately five grams or less of sugar per serving when possible.
• tip: Some names for added sugars (caloric sweeteners) include sucrose, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, cane juice, honey, and fructose. If you start by reading the ingredient list, you’ll know if the food has added sugar.