Written by: AMM Volunteer/Guest Blogger – J Howell
I grew up in a household where soda, pop tarts and all other sugary goodness was banned from our kitchen cabinets. Every trip to the grocery store, I pleaded with my mother to buy chips, cookies, and a variety of sugary desserts. To my dismay, she would only fill the grocery cart with more fruits, vegetables, and organic snacks. Over time, I began enjoying the taste of fruits and vegetables and found healthier alternatives to satisfy my sweet tooth. By high school, I stopped pleading with my mother about junk food and reaped the benefits of making healthy food choices.
My healthy lifestyle quickly went downhill when I moved to Atlanta to attend college. Walking after class to get juicy lemon pepper wings, fries and a large pink lemonade became a weekly tradition and getting a chicken biscuit Saturday mornings became almost routine. Not only were these food items in close proximity to where I lived, it was a social opportunity to catch up and exchange stories with my group of friends. The more fast food I ate, the more I craved it. Even when healthier options presented themselves, I almost always chose greasy, fried and processed. These new unhealthy eating habits along with a lack of exercise and numerous late study nights led to significant weight gain, acne, heightened stress, and low energy. Not only did my eating habits affect me physically and emotionally but also financially. Buying fast food multiple times a week instead of using my meal plan severely cut into my already limited college budget. It was only until I reached this low point in my life, did I realize I needed to gain control over my health.
I became a student of nutrition learning from books, documentaries, and even articles on Google. With this new source of information and guidance, I started taking advantage of healthy tips such as
1) making a list before going to the grocery store,
2) cutting up my fruits and vegetables in small containers to have as easily accessible snacks throughout the week,
3) using a one sheet pan to cook my protein and vegetables in the oven at the same time.
With time, dedication, and support from family and friends, I made major strides in my health. I was happier, had bounds of energy and even began performing better in school. Since graduating college and entering the workforce, I’m still challenged daily to make the right food decisions. From witnessing my own transformation, I’m committed to helping others make positive healthy lifestyle changes.
If you are also interested in exchanging valuable information about healthy eating please feel free to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or visit the Atlanta Mobile Market website where you can also get involved in a wide variety of health advocacy volunteer opportunities.
Putting it all Together and Looking to the Future
To demonstrate how someone might use the information on food labels to support their health, let’s look at this example scenario:
Ms. Smith is a 28-year-old new mom who has decided she would like to lose some weight to improve her health. She goes grocery shopping and carefully looks at food labels to make the best choices.
Her first stop is in the bread aisle, where she is comparing different types of bread for sandwiches. She first compares white bread to whole-wheat bread and sees that the whole-wheat bread has an extra 3 grams of fiber per serving, which she knows can help her feel full and make it easier to not over-eat. She then compares two different types of whole-wheat bread and sees that one of them has 50 Calories per slice, while the other has 80 Calories per slice. She chooses to buy the 50-Calorie per slice bread to help her cut back on calories and lose weight.
She then looks at different types of peanut butter. She can see that one kind of peanut butter has high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient and 10 grams of sugar per serving, but it is also labeled as “Gluten-Free.” The other one has zero grams of sugar and says nothing about gluten. Since she knows that too much added sugar could be bad for her health, and that gluten isn’t normally found in peanut butter anyways, she chooses the peanut butter with no sugar. When she looks at the serving size, she notices that 1 serving equals 2 Tablespoons, and contains 200 Calories. When she goes home and makes her sandwich, she measures out 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter, so therefore knows that she is eating 100 Calories from the peanut butter.
Ms. Smith compared food labels throughout her grocery shopping trip and is confident that she made nutritious food choices--bread with whole grains, more fiber and fewer calories per slice, and a peanut butter with no added sugar--to help her reach her health goals.
Know Your Serving Size
A great place to start when reading the Nutrition Facts panel is right at the top, with Serving Size. This sets the stage to know what amount of the food or beverage that all of the following information refers to. On the example to the [right], the serving size is 1 cup, so if you actually eat the entire package, a total of 2 cups, for example, you’ll have to multiply all the values on the label by 2. Number of servings per container is helpful if you’re not sure what a cup or an ounce or a tablespoon of a food looks like. Here, since there are 2 servings in the container, you’ll be able to estimate that half of the whole container equals 1 serving.
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