Stay Smart With Your Nutrition

fnvtbsThe world of food and nutrition was easy to understand in your great-great-grandmother’s day. Most of the foods she used in cooking were fresh. Sometimes the fruits and vegetables were grown right in her own back yard. Those were the days of home canning, meat curing, and butter churning. As most meals were made from scratch, cooking was considered a full-time job.

And years ago, your great-great -grandmother’s typical food choices at the grocery store were simple: fresh fruits and vegetables in season, milk, butter, flour, sugar, salt, and meat.

Times have changed since then. Women have joined the work force and have less time to cook. Convenience food has appeared. Fast-food restaurants have sprung up. Freezers and refrigerators make food storage easier, and microwaves make food preparation faster. Food markets are open 24 hours a day; some even deliver.

And look at all the decisions you have to make at the supermarket! Some grocery stores carry more than 25,000 items. In the cereal aisle alone you have more than 100 varieties to choose from.

Now that the food industry is doing a lot of the food preparation and cooking for you, how can you stay in control of your own nutrition, health, and well-being?

It takes nutrition savvy and a few dietary guidelines to start you in the right direction.

The Food Guide Pyramid

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have developed the Food Guide Pyramid to help you put the dietary guidelines into action. The Pyramid is based on USDA research on the typical foods you eat, what nutrients these foods contain, and how to make the best food choices for optimum health and well-being. This Pyramid is not a rigid prescription but a general guide that lets you choose the diet that’s right for you.

The Pyramid advises limiting fat because the typical American diet is just too high in fat. A highfat diet can increase your risk for heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Following the Pyramid will help you keep your fat intake within healthy limits. The Pyramid also highlights added sugar and advises a decreased intake of this as well. Sugar is considered “empty calories”: It provides calories with little nutritional benefit. Sugar can also lead to dental cavities.

The Pyramid emphasizes foods from five main food groups, each of which provides specific, essential nutrients. In general, foods from one group cannot replace those from another. Foods that used to be thought of as “fattening”–breads, potatoes, rice, and pasta, the Grain group–are now foods you should choose most often. (What makes these foods “fattening” is all the extra butter, mayonnaise, gravy, and cream sauces that are piled on top.) Foods from the Fruit and Vegetables groups should be the second most popular choices in your diet, with foods from the Meat and Dairy groups next. Fats and foods containing added sugars should be used sparingly.

Where’s the Label?

How can you tell what’s in a food when the label isn’t there? By the summer of 1994, the government will require all processed foods to carry a label. Label laws are voluntary for raw vegatables and fruits and single-ingredient meat and poultry products.

Also, the laws do not apply to restaurants, delis, items sold in small packages (like a package of gum), and items produced by small businesses. In some cases, it’s especially important to have nutrition savvy and to ask questions when you don’t know.

Thirty Percent Savvy

Experts recommend keeping fat to no more than 30 percent of your daily calories.

Look at some of the food labels on the shelves at home. How many grams of fat do these items contain? Some of your favorites will have more (some much more), and some less, but try to balance your daily fat intake to meet the guidelines listed below.

Calories   Maximum Fat
Grams/Day
(30 Percent)
1,800            60
2,000            67
2,200            73
2,400            80
2,800            93

Fast-Food Savvy

If you ordered the following sandwich for lunch and your daily calorie limit is 2,000 with 67 grams of fat, you’ve almost used up your entire fat allowance for the day–with one sandwich!

The next time you want to order a hamburger with all the extras, stop and think. The extras will triple the number of calories in the original burger. Will you have tripled the amount of food on your plate? Are the extras really worth all the extra calories and fat?

Savvy in a Restaurant

Words to look for when you order from a menu:

* Steamed * In its own juice/broth * Garden fresh * Broiled * Roasted * Poached * In a tomato base * In cocktail sauce * Smoked * Broiled dry (or with lemon juice or broth) * In reduced stock * Stewed

Words that warn of high fat:

* Buttery, buttered, in butter sauce * Sauteed, fried, panfried, crispy, braised * Creamed, in Alfredo sauce, in cream sauce, with gravy, with hollandaise sauce * Au gratin, parmesan, in cheese sauce, escalloped * Marinated in oil, basted * Casserole, prime, hash, pot pie

With all this nutrition news under your belt, you’re now prepared to make what you eat count toward your being your healthy best.

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