How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label

1.  First, plan ahead. Make a list of healthy foods before you go grocery shopping and stick to the list! You’ll save time in the grocery store and make healthier food buys!  According to the Food Marketing Institute, for every 1 minute you spend in the grocery store, you will spend 2 dollars. So saving time in the store can also help you save money.

2.  Secondly, avoid shopping when you’re hungry. I know that when I do this, I think everything on the aisle looks good, and I end up buying way more food than I need.

3.  Next, shop around the perimeter of the grocery store. Choose most of your foods from the produce, meat, dairy, and egg sections around the edges of the store. Visit the middle of the store last, which is where the processed foods are located. It’s important to limit processed foods like chips, cookies, and prepared sauces, as they are often high in calories and fat and low in vitamins and minerals.

4. Focus on fresh.  Visit the produce section first while grocery shopping, and fill your cart with a variety of fruits and vegetables. When the fruits and vegetables that you prefer aren’t in season, you can still find your favorites frozen or canned. To reduce the sodium content of canned vegetables, drain and rinse them thoroughly before cooking. Remember to aim for 5 fruits and vegetables a day and choose a rainbow of colors.

5. Finally, spice it up and add variety. Different foods have different nutrients; so make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need by eating all different kinds of foods! When you find yourself stuck in a rut, explore your options with exotic fruits and vegetables or new ethnic foods, such as couscous or polenta. Try buying one new food each month to keep things exciting in the kitchen.

Nashville Nutrition Expert

Whole grains vs. refined grains

A slice of commercially prepared white bread has 66 calories, 1.9 grams protein and 0.6 grams fiber. A slice of whole-wheat bread has 69 calories and provides 3.6 grams protein and 1.9 grams fiber. It isn't hard to see which one is the better nutritional bet.

Whole grains haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling, making them good sources of fiber — the part of plant-based foods that your body doesn't digest. Among many health benefits, high-fiber foods also tend to make you feel full longer.

Refined grains, such as white rice or white flour, have both the bran and germ removed from the grain. Although vitamins and minerals are added back into refined grains after the milling process, they still don't have as many nutrients as whole grains do, and they don't provide as much fiber naturally

Choosing whole grains

Eat whole-grain versions — rather than refined grains — as often as possible. Whole-grain versions of rice, bread, cereal, flour and pasta can be found at any grocery store. Many whole-grain foods come ready to eat. These include a variety of breads, pastas and ready-to-eat cereals.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
  • Wild rice

When in doubt, check the label. Look for the word "whole" on the package, and make sure whole grains appear among the first items in the ingredient list. Try to choose items with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.

Try these tips for adding more whole grains to your meals and snacks:

  • Enjoy breakfasts that include high-fiber cereals, such as bran flakes, shredded wheat or oatmeal.
  • Substitute whole-wheat toast or whole-grain bagels for plain bagels. Substitute low-fat, bran muffins for pastries.
  • Make sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls. Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-wheat versions.
  • Replace white rice with kasha, brown rice, wild rice or bulgur.
  • Feature wild rice or barley in soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
  • Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs, to ground meat or poultry for extra body.
  • Use rolled oats or crushed bran cereal in recipes instead of dry bread crumbs.
Added sugar: Don't get sabotaged by sweeteners

Added sugar is often found in foods that also contain solid fats. Together solid fats and added sugars — called SoFAS — make up a whopping 35 percent of total calories in a typical American diet. When you get so many calories from foods containing SoFAS, it's a sign that you aren't eating healthy foods that contain dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Chances are that you're also getting too many calories, contributing to excess weight and obesity

Filed Under


Internal Medicine

Weight Loss