The nutrition facts label has come under fire lately, with many weighing in on how to make it more useful. But while some worry about serving sizes or if certain facts should be color-coded, others are concerned that the calorie counts are inaccurate.
Last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting, scientists discussed whether our current system for calculating how much energy we get from a food is reliable. It may be that the methods our grandparents relied upon for measuring calories don’t reflect what’s really in the foods we are eating today.
Although we don’t know how anything that comes out of this will translate at our plates, until another method is developed and approved, our present food labels still provide a wealth of information. Here’s how to use that info to make the best choices:
1. Chew. Several studies have shown us that the more you chew, the thinner your waistline. Eating slowly gives you a chance to actually taste and savor foods, making you more likely to sense when you’re starting to feel full instead of shoveling food in. Choosing whole, less processed foods will help make you work harder when it comes to chewing.
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2. Focus on food form. The harder it is to break down a food, the less you may digest and absorb. For example, studies showed that whole almonds have fewer calories than slivered, sliced, or crushed almonds. Nuts in general provide a satisfying crunch and satiating fats, thus playing an important role in weight management. But like any other food, you still need to keep an eye on portion sizes if you want to fit into your favorite sizes.
3. Fill up on fiber. While hard, high-fat and high-fiber foods whole grains such as oatmeal, legumes, seeds, and nuts, need to be reevaluated to determine more accurate nutritional profiles, you definitely should include them in your diet. Soluble fibers like oats and beans help reduce cholesterol levels, and the fiber from whole grains and bran improve bowel function.
4. Get the whole story. Refined and highly processed grains could wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and leave you feeling empty soon after you swallow. Whole grains will provide energy that lasts, especially when coupled with a lean protein like turkey, cottage cheese, or nut butter. Be sure that whole grains or whole wheat appears first on your ingredient list when you're shopping for bread, pasta, crackers, or cereal.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, M.A., R.D., C.D.N., is owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, a motivational speaker, and author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a health and nutrition blogger for US News & World Report and a media spokesperson, she has conducted thousands of interviews for television, radio, print, and web venues with a specialty in making sense of science while assuring that nutritious and delicious can coexist. She has been honored with the Academy’s 2012 Media Excellence Award and is a past recipient of their Outstanding Nutrition Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Follow her on twitter @eatsmartbd, on Facebook, and on Pinterest.