Thoughtful Parenting: Become a healthy food detective

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At a glance

Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0:

■ 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables

■ 2 or fewer hours of recreational screen time

■ 1 or more hours of physical activity

■ 0 sugary drinks

For more information, visit www.letsgo.org or www.facebook.com/LiveWellNWCO.

Source: LiveWell Northwest Colorado

One of the easiest tools that a family can use to ensure a healthier diet is the nutrition facts label found on every product. The information in the labels can help you compare, explore and analyze the array of products that we have to choose from every time we go to the grocery store. Understanding food labels is a way to get a general idea of what’s in a food, figure out what counts as a serving and how many calories there are per serving and compare products to choose the healthiest option. As your children get older, they can use these labels to become grocery store detectives and help to find the best products to buy. Which yogurt has the lowest amount of sugar? Which canned vegetable has the lowest amount of sodium? Which cereal provides the most fiber? You might be surprised by the variability of sugar, sodium and fat in similar products.

What to look for:

■ Serving size: Is this the serving size that you plan to serve?

■ Calories per package: Multiply the number of servings per container by the calories per serving, and you will know how many calories you would consume if you ate the whole package.

■ Saturated fat: Select foods that have limited amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Keep trans-fats to zero.

■ Nutrients: Look for foods that are good sources of nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Once you have all this information, compare similar foods and choose the healthiest option by checking the percent daily value for each nutrient. Aim for foods that provide the highest percentages of nutrients.

Nutrition facts labels can be helpful, but don’t be fooled by some common labeling. A food is not free of calories just because the label says “sugar free” or “fat free.” A quick look at the nutrition facts will tell you how many calories in each serving you will be eating. Remember that organic and natural food items do not guarantee the food is healthy. Also, don’t make the mistake of assuming a package is only one serving. Many beverages and packages of chips, cookies and candy actually are two or three servings.

It won’t take long to choose healthier foods after you take the time on a few occasions to compare the labels of common products your family uses. A little time in the grocery store can increase the health of your family significantly in the long run.

Barb Parnell is the LiveWell Northwest Colorado community coordinator. She can be reached at livewellbparnell@gmail.com. LiveWell partners with First Impressions of Routt County to ensure young children have access to healthy food and health education materials.

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