April 16, 2013

Nutrition labels can be eye-opener


---- — Many food packages recently received a makeover.

More and more often, I’ve noticed a few key pieces of information from the nutrition facts have made it to the front of the label. This little box of condensed facts leads with the calorie count, often per package or container if it is reasonable to consume in one sitting. I think this must be an eye-opener for many; I know I’ve done a double take more than once, and I am a regular label reader.

This calorie box is regularly featured on sugary drinks. The information has been displayed on the bottles for a while, but the nutrition-facts label seems easier to ignore. Surely at least a few people who drink multiple caloric drinks per day will reconsider if they see that each time they do so they are consuming 270 calories. Drink just three sodas, and you will have consumed almost 1,000 calories, which is about half of what the average person needs each day. Calories from sweetened beverages rarely feel filling or contain any nutrition beyond calories.

The information is also displayed on some healthier foods, such as whole-grain products. Hopefully it will help people recognize where the excess calories in our diets come from.

I’ve been thinking about foods that do not have nutrition facts, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Cup for cup, these foods tend to be the lowest in calories compared to other food groups.

Some 100-calorie examples include:

▶ One medium banana

▶ 25 baby carrots

▶ 33 grapes

▶ 10 cups of salad greens

▶ 1 ½ cups of raspberries

▶ 33 cherry tomatoes

▶ Three plums

▶ 7 cups of sliced cucumbers

▶ 2 cups of diced watermelon

▶ 3 cups of broccoli

As you can see, vegetables typically have fewer calories than fruits because of the natural sugar found in fruit. Either way, these examples are quite a bit of food. A cup of plain pasta or rice has 200 calories each. Since these examples contain only 100 calories, they will dramatically reduce the amount of calories in a meal if they are filling your plate. As snacks, these healthy foods will still leave you room for a yogurt, nuts, cheese or some dip. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so the calories are full of nutrition.

The new, easy labels are great, but remember that some of the healthiest foods may not have a calorie count on the front of the package (if they have a package).

Also, calories are just one piece of the puzzle when looking at nutrition and making food choices. Everyone requires a different amount of calories per day to maintain their weight, and each individual may spread them out differently. So there is no right or wrong amount of calories for a meal or a snack, but making sure you include fruits and vegetables with each meal and snack will help you manage the amount of calories you eat, without having to carry around a calculator (or use an app each time you eat).

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.