Monday, January 12, 2009

I just ate HOW many calories?!

If you are a person who has started reading labels to find out how many calories you are eating, good for you! This is a great move towards becoming more aware of what you are eating and whether or not you are choosing foods that are contributing to carrying an extra few pounds on your body.

Most helpful is comparing calorie content from one food to another. For instance, you may have no idea how many calories are supposed to be in a slice of cheese, but if you compare a slice of part-skim mozzarella, or fat free kraft singles, to an ounce of a full fat cheese, you can see the difference: You could be eating 50 calories, 80 calories, or 100 calories, with each slice, depending on the brand and variety you choose.

Now I'll fill you in on the information on the label that is even more important than the calorie content. It's the serving size. Because the serving size that the manufacturer chooses is what all the other information is based on. And if you are trying to figure out whether you're eating a low calorie food, a low fat food, a significant source of calcium, or anything else nutrition-related, you have to know that it is all based on what they call a serving size.

This might be very different from your serving size. At one time a "serving" of Triscuits was three. Three tiny, little crackers. Who eats that much and then stops? What about a serving of Grape Nuts cereal? This has increased recently to 1/2 cup... still a smaller amount than most people probably eat. And when's the last time you measured out 1/2 cup of ice cream from a carton and settled for that much without throwing on an extra rounded spoonful just for good measure!

My favorite calorie story is when my husband came home from work one day and confessed that he had eaten a Snickers Bar earlier that afternoon--even though he was reportedly trying to lose weight--"But it only had 170 calories," he told me, justifying his treat. Well, the last time I checked, a Snickers Bar had about 280 calories. Maybe they came out with a diet version of the candy bar with chocolate and peanuts? NOT! A thought hit me as I was in the supermarket check-out line a few days later and I eyed a King Sized Snickers Bar on the snack shelf. I reached for it to read the label and there it was: "170 Calories" under the nutrition information. All I had to do was look up a little bit further on the label for the serving size and I had the answer to my question: "serving size: 1/3 candy bar". Uh oh. Who eats a third of a candy bar? What would you even do with the rest of it? My darling hubby had unwittingly eaten 510 calories that afternoon between his lowfat lunch and his low calorie dinner.

So here's your tip for the day. When you read the nutritional information on any food label, be sure and check out what they call a serving.

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