By Lorna G. Williams
We live fast-paced lives in a fast- paced world. All too often, our food choices are also fast – fast foods, convenience foods, and processed foods – “empty” calories consumed to fill our “empty” stomachs. To live a healthier lifestyle, we need to learn to make smart food choices from every food group. Nutrient-dense foods are the smart choices. They give you the nutrients that you need with fewer calories than other choices in the same group. The wise choices are foods with the lowest amounts of solid fats or added sugars. For example, choose fat-free (skim) milk instead of whole milk and fresh fruit or canned fruit packed in juice rather than canned fruit packed in syrup. Additionally, it is important to pay attention to how foods are prepared. Skinless baked chicken would be a much more healthy choice than that old southern favorite, fried chicken.
In order to increase your food savvy, learn to be a label reader. Most packaged foods are required to have a Nutrition Facts label. The labels give you information to help you compare packaged foods to make good choices quickly and easily. Pay special attention to the serving sizes listed. If you consume twice the suggested serving amount, you are getting twice the amount of calories, fats, sugars, etc. You will also want to check the ingredient labels for added fats and sugars. The ingredients are listed in the order, by quantity, that they are found in the food. Therefore a food that has the first ingredient listed as being “high fructose corn syrup” would have this sugar as its primary ingredient. Names for added sugars include sucrose, dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltose – (the “ose” suffix is your clue) – corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and honey. Beware of “fat-free” processed foods too. Much of the flavor in foods is derived from the fat content. When the fat is removed, sugars are often added to improve the taste. Therefore, fat-free cookies, cakes, and ice cream may have more added sugars than the higher fat option and may contain more calories. You may want to check out the U. S. Department of Agriculture website, www.mypyramid.gov, for more information and personalized eating plans.