Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Spinach

When I was little, I used to watch Popeye cartoons and wonder why he always ate a can of spinach anytime he was in a jam. Now I get it – spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, and although it can’t instantly give us superhero powers, the nutrients it contains do provide a number of benefits to our bodies. In addition to being low in calories and high in water (which makes it a filling addition to any healthy meal), spinach is an excellent source of Vitamin K (one cup contains almost 200% of the Recommended Daily Intake) and Vitamin A and a good source of Vitamin C and folate. One of the nicer attributes of spinach is that it’s so versatile – it can be sautéed, blended into smoothies, and eaten raw in salads. One of my new favorite uses for spinach is as a base for pesto sauce. And one of my new favorite kitchen experiments is making healthy, veggie-packed grilled cheese sandwiches. This recipe combines both of these things into a hearty, healthy, tasty meal.

Spinach Pesto Grilled Cheese

Ingredients
Pesto:
2 cups baby spinach, loosely packed
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon cashews (substitute walnuts if you don’t like/don’t have cashews)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper, to taste

Sandwich:
4 slices 100% whole wheat bread (I like Pepperidge Farm German Dark Wheat)
Vegetable oil spread or spray
4 thin slices provolone or mozzarella cheese
2 small handfuls baby spinach
½ red pepper, chopped

Instructions
1. To make the pesto, place ingredients into a food processor and pulse until thickened. If pesto is too thick, add more olive oil to reach desired consistency. (Note: Pesto can be made up to 5 days ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)
2. Sauté red peppers with a little bit of olive oil in a small frying pan, stirring often, until they have softened, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.
3. Heat up a griddle or skillet over medium heat.\
4. Lightly cover one side of each piece of bread with vegetable oil spread (or, spray griddle with vegetable oil spray if you prefer not to use the spread).
5. Flip bread over and place one piece of cheese on each slice. Cover one piece of cheese with a layer of pesto and sprinkle red peppers on top. Add a handful of spinach to the other piece of bread. Close sandwiches.
6. Place sandwiches onto heated griddle/skillet and cook until first side is golden brown, then flip sandwiches and cook until second side is golden brown and cheese is melted. Makes 2 sandwiches.

Challenge Yourself to Try a New Fitness Routine

In the next few weeks, the WellMASS Take 10! Exercise Challenge will be rolled out at agencies across the state. The Challenge is designed to encourage you to add 10-minute bursts of activity into your daily routine, with the goal of turning short-term improvements into long-term behavior and lifestyle changes. Take 10! focuses on four different types of activities that can be completed in 10-minute spurts, but its core philosophy of starting small and gradually increasing your activity levels can really be adapted to any type of exercise.

At the beginning of this month, I embarked on a 30-day Plank Challenge that my sister encouraged me to try. Planking, for those of you who, like me at the start of the challenge, have never tried it before, involves holding a push-up position, with your elbows and forearms on the floor, for an extended period of time. The instructions for the Plank Challenge I’m following are simple: Gradually increase the amount of time you plank each day, working all the way up to a 5-minute plank on day 30. I’m currently up to a 2- minute plank, and it actually hasn’t been that difficult to get to this point, since I’ve built up my “tolerance” for planking slowly and consistently. If you’d like to try the 30-Day Plank Challenge yourself, here’s how you can do it:

Days 1 & 2 – 20 seconds               Days 3 & 4 – 30 seconds

Day 5 – 40 seconds                        Day 6 – rest

Days 7 & 8 – 45 seconds              Days 9, 10, & 11 – 1 minute

Day 12 – 1.5 minutes                    Day 13 – rest

Days 14 & 15 – 1.5 minutes        Days 16 & 17 – 2 minutes

Day 18– 2.5 minutes                    Day 19 – rest

Days 20 & 21 – 2.5 minutes      Days 22 & 23– 3 minutes

Days 24 & 25 – 3.5 minutes      Day 26 – rest

Days 27 & 28 – 4 minutes         Day 29 – 4.5 minutes

Day 30 – 5 minutes

If planking isn’t your thing, try this type of challenge with another form of exercise, like doing sit-ups or lifting weights. You can work your way up to a longer duration or more repetitions of an exercise – the point is to slowly increase your endurance and physical fitness so that it doesn’t seem like you’re putting a lot of effort in at all. If you start slowly, you’re more likely to stick with an exercise program. But as with any exercise program, always talk with your doctor if you have any concerns before starting a new workout routine.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Freekeh

I was really surprised last week when I saw a new addition to the shelves of my local Market Basket’s rice and grains aisle: freekeh. I first read about freekeh, a young, green wheat that’s been toasted to bring out its flavor, a few weeks ago, but apparently I’m a little late to the game, as freekeh was predicted to be one of the top food trends of 2013, and it’s been around a lot longer than that – thousands of years, to be exact. Compared to most other whole grains, freekeh is higher in fiber, protein, and many vitamins and minerals. It also has a low glycemic index and is a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health. Freekeh takes about 20 minutes to cook on the stove, and it can be substituted for rice in most dishes. Here, I feature freekeh in two ways – as a side dish you can easily add to your next meal, and as a fun addition to a healthy dessert.

Triple-Herb Freekeh Salad

Ingredients
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ a small red onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
1. Add 8 cups water and the freekeh to a medium saucepan and boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Strain.
2. Meanwhile, soak the onions in ice water in a small bowl for 10 minutes. Strain well.
3. Whisk together the onions, basil, dill, parsley, oil, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
4. Add the cooked freekeh and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl and add the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Alternatively, serve chilled, adding an additional tablespoon of lemon juice just before serving.)

Recipe from Food Network  


Chocolate Freekeh Muffins

 Ingredients
1 cup cooked freekeh
½ cup whole wheat flour
3 heaping teaspoons baking powder
2 cups almond milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons brown suga
Pinch of salt
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
3. Mix all the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) in the order they are listed until they are well-incorporated.
4. Pour into greased muffin pan and top with chocolate chips.
5. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Let cool to room temperature; muffins will taste sweeter as they cool. 

Recipe adapted from BlogHer

Calcium 101

At almost every nutrition-related Lunch ‘n Learn I conduct, I get at least one question about supplements. The supplement that most often comes up in conversation is calcium, a mineral that’s best known for its involvement in bone health (but also has a role in blood clotting, muscle and nerve action, and basic metabolic functions). Since calcium is involved in so many different aspects of our health, it’s important to make sure we’re getting enough of it. Calcium intake is often too low in the following groups of people: women, the elderly, and those who do not consume dairy. For these populations, and others for whom adequate calcium intake is a concern, doctors may prescribe a calcium supplement.

Calcium supplements have a lot of what I call “special considerations,” meaning that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all pill, and there are many factors that can help or hinder how well the calcium from a supplement is absorbed. Here are some key points to note about calcium supplements:

  • Supplemental calcium normally takes one of two forms: calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate is easily absorbed and digested, so it’s a good choice for many people. Calcium carbonate, which also happens to be the active ingredient in Tums, is best absorbed when taken with food. Calcium citrate supplements are probably better for people with digestive issues, and calcium carbonate supplements may be less expensive, but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter which form of calcium you choose.
  • Calcium is best absorbed when it’s taken alongside Vitamin D. This is why many supplements contain both. Vitamin D is best absorbed when taken with food, especially food that contains fat, since fat helps transport Vitamin D throughout the body. If you’re taking a combined calcium and Vitamin D supplement, make sure you take it with a meal or snack.
  • Our bodies can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time. Anything greater than that amount just gets excreted and isn’t used. It’s especially important to be aware of this fact if you take more than 500 mg of supplemental calcium a day, or if you take a calcium supplement alongside your multivitamin. It’s very easy to consume more than 500 mg of calcium at a time if you take a calcium supplement at the same time as a multivitamin. Make sure to take calcium-containing supplements or vitamins 4-6 hours apart so that your body has time to properly metabolize each supplement and none of the calcium in those supplements is going to waste.

It’s best to consume calcium, like most other nutrients, in its natural form – food. Dairy products like low-fat or non-fat milk and yogurt are some of the best sources of calcium, as the calcium they contain is present in high-quantities and is well-absorbed. If you are unable to or choose not to consume dairy, other good sources of calcium include fortified soymilk, orange juice, and cereal; okra; and green leafy veggies like kale, collard greens, and bok choy.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Artichokes

I’ve recently encountered a lot of recipes that feature artichokes, and now is as good time as any to cook with them, as they are in currently in peak season. You may be most familiar with artichokes in the form of spinach and artichoke dip, which, despite the presence of two different veggies, can often be anything but healthy. Artichokes on their own, however, are an excellent source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, and magnesium, and can be cooked and served in a variety of healthy ways, including braised, grilled, steamed, stuffed, and yes – even in a dip.

Turkey and Artichoke Fettuccine

Ingredients
8 ounces whole wheat fettuccine
1, 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts
1 pound turkey breast tenderloins, all visible fat removed
Vegetable oil spray
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
12-ounce can evaporated skim milk
¼ teaspoon dried basil flakes
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Instructions
1. In a large saucepan, cook fettuccine according to package directions. Add artichokes to pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
2. Drain; if necessary, halve any large artichoke hearts.
3. Rinse turkey and pat dry. Cut into bite-size pieces.
4. Coat a large non-stick skillet with vegetable oil spray and place over medium-high heat.
5. Add turkey pieces and garlic to hot skillet. Cook 3 minutes, or until turkey is tender and no longer pink.
6. Stir in flour. Add remaining ingredients except Parmesan cheese. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, about 6 minutes.
7. Add turkey mixture to saucepan with drained fettuccine and artichokes. Add Parmesan cheese to taste. Toss until well-combined. Serves 4-6.

Recipe adapted from The American Heart Association Quick and Easy Cookbook.

Hot Artichoke Dip

Ingredients
2, 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, rinsed
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Chop artichoke hearts in a food processor.
3. Add 2 cups Parmesan, yogurt, garlic, lemon zest, cayenne, and pepper; puree until smooth.
4. Divide between two 2-cup gratin or other shallow baking dishes. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon Parmesan.
5. Bake the dip until golden on top and heated through, 10 to 20 minutes.

Recipe adapted from EatingWell

Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements – Which One Should You Choose?

High cholesterol is becoming more and more common, due to higher rates of both screening and obesity, a major driver for developing the condition. As mentioned in a previous post, one of the best and safest ways to lower cholesterol is by following the TLC (or Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet, developed by the National Institutes of Health to help Americans lower their cholesterol levels by eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly.

For some people, diet and exercise alone are not enough to get their cholesterol levels to where they need to be. These people are usually prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications, like statin drugs, which they often need to take for the rest of their lives. If the prospect of taking a prescription medication for the next 40 or 50 years seems daunting, there is what I consider to be an “in-between” option for when diet and exercise don’t work and taking a prescription drug isn’t the first choice on your list: over-the-counter supplements.

Supplements can be seen as a more “natural” way to lower cholesterol, since their active ingredients are naturally-occurring, rather than man-made. A “dietary supplement,” as defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, is a product “taken by mouth that contains a ‘dietary ingredient’ intended to supplement the diet.” These dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and enzymes. While cholesterol-lowering medications, particularly statins, are some of the drugs most commonly-prescribed by doctors, cholesterol-lowering supplements are just as popular among consumers.

Perhaps the most well-known (and well-studied) cholesterol-lowering supplement is fish oil. Fish oil supplements contain the omega-3 fatty acids that are naturally found in oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines. These concentrated sources of heart-healthy omega-3s are commonly sold in capsule form and have few side effects, the most common being belching and a fishy aftertaste (although “belch-free” formulations are becoming more and more prevalent). Fish oil is generally safe to consume, although adverse effects such as an increased risk of stroke have been reported in people who consume greater than 3,000 mg, or 3 g, of fish oil a day. However, fish oil taken in lower amounts has been shown to be effective in lowering total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reducing inflammation, and preventing heart disease and heart attacks.

Two other cholesterol-lowering supplements that have been in the news lately are krill oil and flaxseed oil. Krill oil is an up-and-coming “designer” alternative to fish oil. While krill oil may seem trendy, it also comes with a much higher price tag than fish oil, and its safety and effectiveness haven’t been adequately studied. What studies have shown, however, is that krill oil comes with a higher risk of side effects than fish oil, so it might not be a worthwhile investment, since it may not be safe and it hasn’t yet been proved to be effective. Flaxseed oil, a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, is generally thought to be safe to use, but it isn’t as effective as fish oil. Our bodies don’t absorb plant-based omega-3 fats as well as those that come from animal sources, so flaxseed oil doesn’t offer as much “bang for the buck” as fish oil does, since its cholesterol-lowering effects aren’t as potent. It remains, however, a good alternative for vegetarians or those concerned about the mercury content of fish oil supplements.

Before starting any supplementation regimen, talk with your doctor, as certain supplements can interact with medications or other supplements you may be taking. Also be aware that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so you can’t be 100% sure if the supplements you purchase are going to be as safe and effective as their labels tout them to be. But if you must choose a supplement to lower your cholesterol levels, go with fish oil, as there is the most evidence out there on its safety and effectiveness.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Teff

I’ve considered writing about teff for awhile, but I wasn’t sure if it was too obscure a food to feature as a Healthy Ingredient of the Week. However, I recently received an email from an employee asking about teff, and it’s now a mainstay on the shelves of my local grocery store, so I think the time is right to talk about this ancient grain.

Teff, a staple of Ethiopian cooking, is one of the oldest grains in the world. It also happens to be the smallest, but you would never guess that judging from its nutritional value. Teff, which is naturally gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, has more protein than wheat and is a good source of fiber. It’s also an excellent source of the mineral manganese and high in iron, calcium, magnesium, thiamin, and phosphorus. Teff can be purchased whole or ground up as flour. Whole teff can be a great substitute for rice as a side dish. In the recipe below, it makes a nice addition to an Ethiopian soup called wat, which is usually served with bread made from teff flour, but does not traditionally include whole teff in the soup.

Teff Stew 

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup teff
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow summer squash, sliced
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat.\
2. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add garlic and spices. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
4. Add teff and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
5. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
6. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until teff is soft, about 15 minutes.
7. Add vegetables and beans; cook until tender, 10-15 minutes.
8. Add lemon juice and cook 3 more minutes.
9. Add cilantro just before serving. Season to taste with pepper. Makes 4-6 servings.

Recipe adapted from Bob’s Red Mill

Nancy Minus 25: Minus Seven Pounds and Counting…

“This is the lowest you have weighed since the first time you came to my office, Nancy; keep up the good work.” Now, those were words that were sweet music to my ears. What a huge difference from the last time I visited with my primary care doctor and when we started the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge. As I am sitting here writing my last blog and reminiscing on my experience with the Challenge, I can definitely say that it has been quite an adventure! Well, more like a roller coaster adventure, as I have had my ups and my downs, and lots of learning curves in between.

I learned that eating more fruits and veggies is tedious, but worth every effort. Preparing my meals and snacks helps me avoid eating junk food and feel great about the choices I make to eat healthier. Actually, the more I think about it, it also helped me with my children, nieces, and nephews, as I found myself eating healthier more and visiting McDonald’s less with them.

I learned that exercising (such as walking, core strengthening, and ab workouts) is important, but my mental and emotional wellbeing is not only just as important, but crucial. Yoga, meditation, and simply taking time to read or hear motivational “stuff” have helped me get closer to my goal every single day.

I learned that surrounding ourselves with those who encourage us, inspire us, and lift us higher (like my friend Maureen Saba) can only make us feel better and less likely to give up. I truly believe everyone should have a friend like Maureen; for that I am very grateful.

I also learned and felt a great deal of gratitude for those who joined me in the Challenge, because the fact that they showed up every week even though they were busy taught us that we all achieve something and that together, we can fight and win this battle called weight loss.

I may not have lost the 25 pounds that I had wanted to lose during this challenge; however, this time I feel optimistic and know that I can reach my goals because giving up is no longer an option. I learned that blogging is not only fun, but a great way for me to hold myself accountable, and I hope that my blog posts were helpful to others (thanks Ashley for picking me to do this!). Finally, I would like to leave you with this quote; Namaste!

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” – Brian Tracy

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Mozzarella Cheese

Cheese, when it’s lower in fat and eaten in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet. Cheese is an excellent source of both protein and calcium, although it often gets a bad reputation for being high in saturated fat. While cheese made with whole milk often contains more saturated fat than other dairy products like yogurt, softer cheeses and those made with part skim milk are healthier choices. Since mozzarella is softer than many of its cheesy counterparts, like cheddar, it’s a naturally lower source of saturated fat. To make meals made with mozzarella even healthier, choose part-skim varieties, and of course, use the cheese in moderation.

The following recipes come courtesy of Jacki Dooley, the Wellness Champion for the State Lab in Jamaica Plain – she’s someone who knows a lot about making meals healthier, having lead her worksite to victory in last year’s WellMASS Weight Loss Competition!

Baked Margarita Spaghetti Squash

Ingredients
1 large spaghetti squash
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large Roma tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 tsp. each salt & pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Using a large knife or a cleaver, slice the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise down the middle. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and center strings.
3. Drizzle the two halves with olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
4. Place the squash, open side down on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven, check to see if the squash is soft and easily comes up with a fork into a spaghetti-like texture. If it’s too hard to remove, cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, scrape and fluff the stringy squash with a fork. Leave the squash in the skin.
6. Turn the oven up to broil. Add the tomatoes and fresh basil into the squash, stir and top with the mozzarella cheese. Place in the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Alternatively, you can leave the oven at 400 degrees and bake the squash for an additional 20 minutes. 7. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving the squash.


Baked Mozzarella Chicken Rolls

Ingredients
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (8, 4-ounce pieces)
1 cup whole wheat Italian-style bread crumbs
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 clove minced garlic and olive oil for sautéing
½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
⅓ cup beaten egg whites or Egg Beaters
3 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup marinara sauce
Fresh basil for topping

Instructions
1. Prep the chicken: Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and pound the pieces until they are thin (for quick cooking) and have expanded in surface area (for more filling).
2. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and set aside.
3. Prep the filling: Chop the spinach and sauté it with the garlic and just a drizzle of olive oil for 2-3 minutes or until just barely wilted. Combine the sautéed spinach with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, and 2-3 tablespoons of the egg whites. Place the remaining egg whites in a separate shallow bowl and set aside.
4. Assemble the chicken: Oil the bottom of a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one piece of chicken on a flat working surface. Put a spoonful of ricotta-spinach filling right in the middle and roll the chicken up so that the edges meet to form a “seam.” Dip the entire chicken roll in egg whites, and then roll it in the breadcrumbs. Place in a baking dish, seam side down. Repeat for the remaining 7 pieces of chicken. Bake for 25 minutes.
5. Finishing touches: After 25 minutes, the chicken should be cooked through (white on the inside) and browned on the top. Cover the chicken with the marinara sauce and slices of fresh Mozzarella. Bake for another 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melting. Sprinkle with fresh basil.

Recipes courtesy of Wellness Champion Jack Dooley

Making Sense of Food Labels

The nutrition community recently has been abuzz with news that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking to update the nutrition facts labels found on the back of packaged foods.  You probably have dozens of foods in your cabinets that contain these labels, and you may even glance at them once in awhile to see if you’re making a smart nutritional choice.  Nutrition labels in their current form are confusing, so it’s no surprise that the government wants to give them an overhaul to make them more user-friendly. 

The proposed changes to the labels include a more prominent calorie count (the first piece of information most consumers check); more realistic serving sizes (let’s face it – most of us don’t stick to the recommended ½ cup of ice cream or 8 ounces of soda); and a differentiation between naturally-occurring and added sugars in a product (currently, only the total sugar count is listed, and it’s almost impossible to figure out how much of that sugar comes from natural sources, like fruit and dairy, versus how much refined sugar has been added into the product).  The aim of adapting the labels to the needs of consumers is that more people will actually use them to make healthy choices.

Although nutrition labels may currently be a little hard to figure out, there is still some useful information on them, including:

Serving Size and Servings per Container:  Being aware of the serving size and how many servings are in the container of food you’re eating is a great way to keep track of how many calories you’re consuming.  Serving sizes are recommendations for how much of a product you should consume in a single sitting.  In the event you end up eating more than one serving, it’s helpful to know how many servings you consumed, and how many calories were in each serving.  It’s also a good idea to pay attention to how many servings are in a container, as it’s really easy to drink an entire 20-ounce bottle of coke without realizing that there are 2.5 servings in that bottle, and each serving contains 100 calories – so that bottle of Coke is going to cost you 250 calories, which may be a lot more than you bargained for.

Percent Daily Values:  With the exception of calories, it can be hard to remember how much of a nutrient (like fat, sodium, or fiber) you should be consuming each day.  Rather than stressing out about counting grams of sodium, you can simply look at the % Daily Value column to determine whether or not your food is a low or high source of a nutrient.  Percent Daily Values let you know the percentage of the Recommended Daily Value of a nutrient your food contains.  While these recommendations are based on an adult consuming a 2,000-calorie/day diet, most nutrient recommendations are the same or similar for all healthy adults (so even though you may only consume 1,500 calories a day, you need just as much Vitamin A as someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day).  The easiest way to make use of the % Daily Values is to remember that anything that contains <5% of the Recommended Daily Value is a low source of a nutrient, while anything containing >20% of the Recommended Daily Value is a high source of a nutrient.  You should try and choose foods that are low sources of nutrients to limit, like sodium and saturated fat, and high sources of nutrients to increase, like fiber and Vitamin C. 

Ingredients List:  Although it doesn’t contain any numbers, the ingredients list may be the most valuable portion of a food label, since it lets you know every ingredient a food contains.  General rules to follow when it comes to choosing a healthy food based on its ingredients list are:  choose foods with as few ingredients as possible; be on the lookout for words you can’t pronounce or words that signal unhealthy additives like partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or sucralose (Splenda, an artificial sweetener); and avoid foods with unhealthy ingredients like sugar at the beginning of the list, as the ingredients present in the largest quantities are listed first.  Ingredients lists are also the only way to currently determine if a product contains added sugar, although it’s not always easy.  Sugar can take many forms in packaged foods, including sucrose, fructose, maltose, or dextrose (basically, anything ending in –ose); cane syrup; molasses; honey; agave; and maple syrup.  Reading the ingredients list is the only surefire way to know if your food contains items you might want to avoid, as the nutrition facts panel doesn’t always tell the whole story.

The next time you’re shopping for food, or going through your cupboards to find a healthy choice, I challenge you to be a food detective and carefully read the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list.  What you uncover may surprise you, and will hopefully lead you on the path to healthier eating.

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