By: DR. Alex Nedvetsky
If you want to stay healthy and lean, know the food you eat. But how can you know your food? Nutrition labels, of course. They are intentionally designed to give valuable concise information about food. Understanding the labels is vital for making the right dietetic choices, and using them consistently turns us into experts with the ability to read beyond the lines.
Many people read labels selectively, mistakenly focusing on fat, sugar, or calories and ignoring everything else. To avoid the bias, all components should be taken into account: macronutrients, micronutrients, and portion size.
Macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) constitute an important bulk of our daily meal. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), though consumed in minute amounts, are equally vital to our health and functioning. Portion size (dimension, weight, and calories) is also very important for overall health and weight control.
Then, there are nutrients such as cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. These nutrients wreak havoc on our health when overconsumed, but we need them in small amounts. The rule of thumb is to stay within their Daily Value (DV) limits, and you’ll be fine.
In addition, there is a group of “nutrients” with funky names such as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, monosodium glutamate, and the like, which are found in junk food. These, we should avoid.
Natural foods usually don’t have nutrition labels unless they are packaged. I prefer not to buy fruits, legumes, or vegetables packaged, as I look forward to the opportunity to feel their natural goodness. I like to cull my apples, inspect my avocadoes, palpate my yams, and smell my herbs….
What do I do when I come across an unfamiliar food? I get by with a little help from my two best friends, Smartphone and Google!
There are two aspects to nutritional information: healthfulness and satiating capacity. Healthfulness denotes food’s positive or negative effects on health. Satiating capacity denotes food’s ability to satisfy appetite.
Foods with substances such as sugar, trans fats, and additives are detrimental to our health, especially in high amounts. To maintain good health, it is best to eliminate them from the diet, or at least eat such foods in great moderation. To strengthen health, it is best to eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods rich in fiber, vitamins, phytonutrients, and minerals.
People who pay close attention to what they eat know that some foods satisfy appetite better than others. For example, a piece of steak is more satiating than a bowl of rice, and a cup of soup is more satiating than a cup of juice.
Foods have different satiating capacities based on their composition. Foods that have substantial amounts of fiber, protein, and water are more satisfying than foods low on the above-mentioned nutrients. Starchy, sugary, and fatty foods are least satiating and easier to overeat.
Then, there is a matter of weight, dimensions, and calories (portion size). While weight and calories are explicitly shown on labels, dimensions have to be learned empirically. The goal is to create a strong connection between portion size and satiation. Yes, another area where size matters… except here smaller is better!
Minding all of the above-mentioned dietary aspects makes us preemptively satisfied with our food even before we start eating it.