During colder months, the limited availability of fresh produce can lead us to rely more on canned, frozen, and prepackaged foods. But how can you continue to be health-conscious when choosing prepackaged products? Below, our nutrition expert outlines tips for reading food labels and choosing nutritious foods during the winter.
Start with serving size
“When reading food labels, I always tell clients to start at the top with the serving size,” says Alicia Buterbaugh, RD, certified diabetes educator with Kettering Health Network. “A lot of people neglect looking at the serving size, which may be different that a person’s portion size. If the serving size is half a cup and someone eats a full cup, then they need to double the information on the nutrition label.”
Consider daily values
Next, look at the Percent Daily Values of certain ingredients. In general, explains Alicia, five percent or less is a low amount of an ingredient, while 20 percent or more is considered high.
Try to ensure that you consume low amounts—less than 100 percent of the daily value—of these ingredients:
Fat: Keep saturated fat below 20 grams per day and trans fat as low as possible.
Cholesterol: Keep cholesterol intake under 300 milligrams per day.
Sodium: Keep sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams per day.
Notice added sugars
“Over the next couple years, we’ll start to see labels listing grams of added sugar,” Alicia says. New guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require added sugar to be listed on nutrition labels by the end of January 2020. Some labels have already incorporated this change, while others are not listing it yet.
The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day, and women no more than 25 grams. “Currently, it can be tricky because most food labels don’t differentiate between sugar that is added versus naturally occurring sugar,” Alicia says.
Look for key words like dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, and sucrose, which can indicate that a food has more added sugar.
Check out nutrients
Take a look at the nutrients at the bottom of the food label, and choose foods that are higher—20 percent daily value or more—in these ingredients:
Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption and bone strength and lowers the risk of osteoporosis.
Potassium: Adequate potassium intake can lower blood pressure, regulate water balance, and counteract the effects of sodium.
Calcium: Calcium is vital to heart, muscle, and nerve function and helps to build and maintain strong bones.
Iron: Iron is involved in transporting oxygen throughout the body and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Fiber: Soluble fiber can help lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and insoluble fiber helps with digestive regularity.
Fresh produce is best when choosing fruits and vegetables. In the absence of fresh produce, remember:
- When choosing canned products, opt for “unsweetened” fruit and “no salt added” veggies.
- Watch for frozen vegetables with added sauces, as these can be high in sodium.
- Be careful of frozen dinner, which can be very high in both sodium and fat.
Food for thought
For more guidance in food choices for a healthy lifestyle, contact our Diabetes & Nutrition Center at 1-888-822-4114 or visit our diabetes website.