Don’t trust the box: 6 nutrition tips from a dietitian

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When you’re shopping at the grocery store, how do you decide what to buy? Do you look at the price? Do you compare several different products or brands? Do you look at the ingredients or where it was made/grown?

With all of this information available, it can be hard to make a decision about what’s best for your health, even if you’re looking at specific ingredients or nutrients.

In fact, according to CNN’s report on the International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health Survey, “About eight in 10 survey respondents said they have found conflicting information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid – and more than half of them said the conflicting information has them second-guessing the choices they make.”

When asked to rank certain components or nutrients, many consumers correctly placed nutrients like fiber and Vitamin D near the top of their lists and saturated fats near the bottom. But, when it came to unsaturated fats, or “healthy fats,” as they are sometimes called – olive oil, canola oil, etc. – many consumers disagreed about where to place these.

Betsy Oriolo, a registered dietitian at the St. Elizabeth Weight Management Center, agreed it can be confusing.

“Many of my patients ask about the validity of various things they’ve heard or been told from family members and friends regarding their diets,” she said. Oriolo refers to these folks as “well-intentioned,” but often misinformed. “Other patients have been given advice from someone at the gym or from a TV show or even from a chiropractor who is not a registered dietitian. Of course it’s confusing.”

For a food product to be marketed as healthy, it should have low levels of total and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and have at least 10 percent of the daily requirements for vitamins, fiber and other nutrients, according to the FDA’s latest criteria. Some dietitians suggest throwing out the term “healthy” in marketing altogether, and replacing it with more descriptive terms like nourishing or nutritious, in order to help consumers make better-informed choices.

 

Until that happens, Oriolo has a few guidelines below that will make your grocery trips a little easier.

  • Choose foods with less than five grams of total fat per serving. Try to pick foods with heart-healthy fats like olive or canola oil.
  • For saturated and trans fats, choose foods with less than three grams of saturated fat and trans fat per serving, and double check the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oils. This is another term for “trans fat.”
  • Look for foods that are low in sodium. Aim for less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day  and select  foods with 140 milligrams per serving.
  • Choose foods that contain  less than 30 grams of total carbohydrates and less than 15 grams of sugar per serving, if you have high triglycerides.
  • Aim to consume 25-30 grams of fiber every day. Foods like beans and lentils contain five grams of fiber or more per serving.
  • Remember, by law, serving sizes are based on the amount of food people are actually eating, not what they  should be eating. Keep this in mind as you check the nutrition facts label and choose portions for yourself and your family.