Volume 18, No. 3, Summer 2010
By Debra T.Gibbons, R.D.
Reading food labels can be challenging even for the well-educated shopper. The labels are not worded in everyday language. They use grams (gm) and milligrams (mg) and, to further complicate matters, these can be interpreted differently depending on the nutrient that’s being measured.
To help understand how to evaluate the fat in a product more easily, visualize every five gm as a teaspoon. If it is saturated or Trans fat, that would be teaspoon of butter or stick margarine. If it is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat think of a teaspoon of oil.
Consider a frozen chicken pot pie that contains 29 grams of total fat, of which 10 gm are saturated. This means that each serving has two tablespoons (or six teaspoons) of total fat, of which two teaspoons are the hard, bad fat.
Or check one of the popular ice creams. The label states that each half-cup serving contains 15 gm total fat. Of these, nine gm (almost two teaspoons) are saturated or bad fat. A single hot dog contains 14 gm total fat, of which six are saturated.
Eating two hot dogs for dinner means you really consumed about 12 gm (or 2 ½ teaspoons) of bad fat.
See how those fat totals (and pounds) quickly mount up.
Overall, you should be consuming less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated and trans fats. If you consume 2,000 calories, your total saturated and trans fat intake should be no more than 22 gm daily. Use this table to evaluate and compare as you shop.
Now let us consider sodium content.
We recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg daily, the equivalent of a single teaspoon of salt. Checking that hot dog label again, you will see each hot dog contains 440 mg of sodium. But you ate two, so that is a total of 880 mg…or about one third of your recommended total daily intake.
In contrast, if you ate four ounces of fresh-cooked chicken breast, you would get only 50 mg of sodium…and the total fat content would be only 1.5, only one-third of which is saturated.
Carefully assessing information on the food label can lead to better food choices. Supermarkets offer thousands of products and if your first choice does not meet your expectations, keep looking until you find a more nutritious alternative.
(Ms. Gibbons is a Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator for the VA Primary Care Clinic in Hyannis. She also sees private clients at LiveNutrition in Brewster, 508-896-9080 for appointments, most health insurances accepted.)