Eating by the numbers

Do you remember when there was always a fun surprise at the bottom of the cereal box and you would hope that your mom would let you dump out the contents to get to that surprise? Maybe it would be a whistle, stickers or even a cool decoder ring! These days, however, a surprise in the box is not always a good thing. Surprises now come in the shape of fats, cholesterol or added sugars and hidden calories.

Fortunately, the FDA now requires almost every food product to come with a label designed to take the surprise out of your foods. Unfortunately, these labels are not always easy to read or understand.

Your Indianapolis chiropractor would like to help take the mystery out of buying foods by helping you to understand exactly what some of the numbers on that label actually means.
1. Serving Size – generally the first item listed on any food label. Any nutritional fact listed will be based on a single serving not the entire contents.
2. Calories – If you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, this is the most important number on the label. Even it a food item is listed as low-carb or low-fat, you will continue to gain wieight if you take in more calories than you burn. To aid in calculating calorie count, buy foods in single servings. Counting the calories is a lot easier and you will be less likely to overeat.
3. Fats – the human body needs fat. However, it’s the type of fat that makes the difference. The label should list a total fat number followed by a percentage of saturated fats and trans fats. These are “bad” fats as they increase your risk of heart disease. Healthy fats are not usually listed but can be found by substracting the saturated and trans fat number from the total.
4. Cholesterol – Too much cholesterol can build up in arteries and lead to heart disease so limit your intake to 300 milligrams a day. But only 25% of the cholesterol in your body comes from food. The remaining is produced by your liver so the lower this number on the label, the better.
5. Sodium (Salt) – Look on the the label for 5% or less sodium in the food item. Restaurant foods are loaded with salt so it’s important to choose low sodium foods at the grocery.
6. Carbohydrates – This is a big category as it includes sugar, starches and sugar substitutes and also fiber which is an excellent source of energy. The right carbs can keep you full and energized but simple carbs will not and they lack vitamins and minerals. Look for foods with a low percentage of sugars and high percentage of fiber.
7. Sugars – Our bodies use sugars quickly as short-term energy. But it is not good for the long term and contains no vitamins and minerals so look for labels with a low percentage of sugar listed.
8. Vitamins – Water soluble vitamins such as C and B will flush out of your body if your consume more than you need. Fat soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K are stored in the body and can become harmful. Minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc can also become a health risk if you go overboard. So look for low percentages of these vitamins and minerals as listed on the label. You will be fine if you eat a balanced diet.
9. Ingredients – The first 5 incredients listed are the most important. These are the items that have the highest quantity in the food. Stay away from foods that list high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil or enriched flour in the first five ingredients. It is not in your best interest to eat that food item. Look for natural incredients such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A good rule to follow is….if you don’t recognize the ingredient or can’t pronounce it, stay away from that food. You are probably getting a lot of preservatives and additives.

Shopping for any food item is not as easy as it used to be but maybe this will help when trying to read and understand the label. Think of this as your own nutritional decoder ring.