Tuesday, October 27, 2009

For Better Eating, Learn More!

Studies show that people who know more about what is "good for them" to eat, actually eat better.  Here are a few things you can learn about your nutrition, what you need and how to find what foods will best meed your needs:

1. Use the ingredient labels to see what is actually in your food.  All ingredients must be listed by law (with a few exceptions of 'standardized foods' such as mayonnaise and ketchup), and in descending order of composition.  In other words,  there is more of the first ingredient than of any other ingredients in the food: If sugar is listed first in your cereal before flour, that means there is more sugar than flour.
Next compare the nutrition facts panel among several brands and varieties.  You want to get the most nutrition (vitamins, minerals) for the least calories and fat.  Remember to note the serving size and compare this equally as well: some products alter their serving size to make it look like they have fewer calories than another leading brand.

2. Find out what you need as an individual.  How many calories should you have in a day?  How many grams of protein? What is your healthy limit for fat grams?  Knowing how much protein you consume doesn't really mean anything if you don't have a goal to compare it to.  Be sure the source of your information is reliable: look for a registered dietitian or a reputable agency, such as the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, or higher educational institutions to provide you with guidelines that are backed by years of peer-reviewed studies and evidence.  Here is a good example  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/AN00284 .  The food guide pyramid even gives individualized guidelines for the macronutrients based on your height, weight, and gender.  Learn to question numbers when you find inconsistencies or hints of an ulterior motive.  For example, the group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) greatly reduces the suggested recommendations for protein in the hopes that people will turn away from animal products like meat and milk in order to save more animals.  In fact, you can easily get adequate protein from other sources, so it doesn't make sense to deflate the recommended numbers.

3. What really is "good for you"?  There's always news about the latest, greatest cure for aging or cancer in one food.  It just doesn't make sense.  We can't keep jumping from tomatoes to wine, focusing on one miracle food every few weeks in the hopes we'll live long and stay healthy.  The best guide to follow is "everything in moderation"!  Including a variety of foods in your diet assures you'll be getting the nutrients we don't know about yet, even before the next study comes out.

4.  What really is not good for you?  We know that excesses of certain components in food contribute to chronic diseases.  Sodium, fat, and cholesterol should be limited by anyone's evidence.  But what are the numbers?  You need to find out by perusing the latest research (again, composed by reputable agencies) the number of fat grams, cholesterol grams, and sodium milligrams that are in your best interest.

Arming yourself with the facts will lead you to avoiding too much of what is not good for you, and eating more of what you really need.  Learn about good nutrition from reputable sources: You might even consider purchasing a recently used nutrition textbook that is used in college nutrition courses.  Be sure to read the nutrition labels that are provided for you (and regulated by the FDA) to know what's really in the products you are buying.  The more you know, the better you'll end up eating.

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