How to read a nutrition facts label

It can be a little more complicated to choose the right foods when living with a chronic illness. Learning how to use the Nutrition Facts label optimally for your specific health condition will help you make good dietary decisions and control symptoms, especially if you have the advice of a dietitian-nutritionist who is knowledgeable in management. of your specific health problem.

For example, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) will want to pay special attention to carbohydrates. “As a PCOS dietitian, I tell clients that the most important part of the label is often carbohydrates and sugar,” says Berger. “A good rule to keep in mind is that a slice of traditional bread contains about 15g of carbohydrates. When you have a snack with 32g of carbohydrates, you are eating about the equivalent of two slices of bread. This can be a lot or not. It depends on how you balance your consumption.

Other chronic health conditions have similar considerations. Here are some basic things to know if you want to…

Manage type 2 diabetes

There is no official diabetes diet, but the American Diabetes Association released a nutrition consensus report in 2019. When you have type 2 diabetes, your carbohydrate intake is extremely important. “A lot of people think you should be wary only of sugars,” says Bremner. “While limiting sugary foods is certainly important, total carb count is critical.” Usually, she says, you can infer the number of grams of fiber because fiber isn’t completely digested by the body and slows the release of glucose. When you do this, the result is often referred to as “net carbs.” For more information on net carbs, check out this guide from the American Diabetes Association.

Protein and fat also slow the release of glucose, so you have a bit more leeway over carbs when choosing a more macronutrient-balanced food, Bremner says. In addition to choosing a food with a moderate amount of carbohydrates, it is also important to choose one that contains protein, fiber, fat, or a combination of these, or to pair the food with a source of these nutrients, such as whole grains. peanut butter crackers. Sharon Puello, RD, CDCES, a certified diabetes care and education specialist in Yonkers, New York, recommends choosing foods with at least three grams of protein and fiber per serving.

Control inflammatory conditions such as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis

Anti-inflammatory diets have become popular, and sites such as the National Eczema Association, Arthritis Foundation, and National Multiple Sclerosis Society each have information and dietary guidelines for these specific conditions.

“When living with inflammatory conditions, it’s essential to review the added sugar content of a food because sugar can contribute to inflammation,” says Puello. “It would be ideal to consume as little as possible, without switching to non-nutritive sweeteners.” You’ll also want to check the ingredient list for foods you might be allergic to, which is of particular concern with eczema.

Manage digestive conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation offers dietary information and recommendations on its website.

“While we often try to choose high-fiber foods to help positively affect digestion, in some cases we’re looking for the opposite,” says Puello. “In ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s flares, as well as diverticulitis, low-fiber foods are often the key to relief.”

What exactly does this mean? “In these cases, you would be looking for foods with 1 g or less of fiber per serving,” says Puello. “When you have persistent digestive issues, it’s also very important to check the ingredients section of the nutrition label, because being able to identify what may have triggered a flare-up in your condition starts with knowing what it is. is in the food you eat.”

Mitigate risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure

The American Heart Association lists dietary guidelines and recommendations for heart health on its website.

When it comes to controlling high cholesterol, pay special attention to saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars. “When it comes to high cholesterol and heart disease risk, saturated fat is always the number to watch, although research now shows that sugary foods also contribute to risk,” Bremner says. “On the other hand, look for high fiber foods – the ‘broom’ that helps sweep cholesterol out of our system!”

For trans fats, nutrition labels are tricky. “The Nutrition Facts label can show 0g next to trans fat, as long as the product contains less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving,” says Goergen. “That goes for all nutrients, including saturated fat and cholesterol. So a simple trick is to search the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated” oils to see if any trans fats have been added. Another ingredient that can be a source of trans fat? Shortening.

For high blood pressure, keep an eye on the sodium content. “It’s amazing how many foods contain too much sodium, because food manufacturers use it both as a preservative and as a flavor enhancer, i.e. to make us eat more!” said Georgen. A low-sodium food contains 140 mg or less per serving, so take note if you are consuming more than the serving on the label.

Whenever possible, as with canned beans, look for “no salt added” foods. “Be wary of products labeled ‘reduced in sodium,'” Bremner says. “It’s all relative, and a sodium-reduced soy sauce can still have more than 500 mg of sodium per tablespoon.”

Also helpful: Choose foods high in potassium. “Traditional wisdom says to limit sodium intake to improve blood pressure, while modern thinking is that a balanced intake of potassium and sodium is what really has the greatest positive impact on blood pressure,” says Puello. The daily recommendation for potassium is 4700 mg and for sodium 2300 mg. So when looking at a nutrition label, the ideal product would contain at least as much potassium as sodium, if not more.

Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight

“Eating lots of added sugar can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems,” Yawitz says. Choosing foods with little or no added sugars is the first step in eating to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight.

But don’t forget the other nutrients. “Obviously, calories are important, but they don’t give you the big picture,” Bremner says. “You want to scan the label for protein, fiber, and fat (in moderation), which will help you stay full longer.”

And don’t necessarily look for fat-free foods. Some, like fat-free peanut butter, may have added sugar to compensate for spoilage. “A lot of times when people are looking to lose weight, they’re looking for fat-free foods,” says Puello. “But fat slows digestion, helping you feel full longer.”

Build muscle or fuel your cardio workout

“You need protein to build muscle, and you also need carbs,” says Bremner, “Carbohydrates are our body’s main fuel and proteins are the building blocks – so combined they provide energy and essential materials.

That said, what you choose to eat before a workout really depends on the type of workout you’re doing. “If you’re the person who hits the gym for a leisurely walk on the treadmill to get moving, then your regular meals throughout the day are probably enough,” says Puello. “But if you’re engaging in routine strenuous activity, you want a carbohydrate-rich food. Because fiber and fat can slow digestion, this is when your ideal food is lower in fiber and fat. When you look at a nutrition label, your target food is high in carbs, low in fat and fiber, and contains some protein.

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