Carlos is 63. When he was growing up, he loved his mother Rosa’s homemade frijoles refritos. But now he is trying to make wiser food choices, and he knows that those refried beans were high in fat. After learning about the Dietary Guidelines, Carlos is trying to decide which eating plan to follow. He has some questions. Can he have snacks? Does he have to measure everything he eats? And where can he get information about those Nutrition Facts labels?
Snacks are okay, as long as they are smart food choices. If you want an afternoon pick-me-up or after-dinner snack, have a piece of fruit, or spread peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese on whole wheat toast. Don’t forget to include snacks in your daily food count. For example, one tablespoon of peanut butter spread on a slice of whole wheat toast counts toward the grains group and the protein foods group. Some ideas for healthy snacking include:
- Have an ounce of cheese with some whole-grain crackers, a container of low-fat or fat-free yogurt, or some low-fat popcorn.
- Put fruit instead of candy in the bowl on your coffee table.
- Keep a container of cleaned, raw vegetables in the fridge.
- If you want some chips or nuts, don’t eat from the bag. Count out a serving, and put the bag away.
Here’s a tip
When you are out and need a snack, don’t be tempted by a candy bar. Instead, take along some fruit or raw vegetables in a plastic bag when you go out.
Servings and Portions
Do you have to measure or weigh everything you eat? Not really. Some people find it helps to measure things carefully at first, but once you get used to your new eating plan, strict measuring probably won’t be necessary. But, what exactly is a serving? And is that different from a portion?
The word “serving” can have different meanings depending on how it is used. A DASH Plan serving is how much of each food you should eat to meet the plan’s daily recommendation. (See below to learn more about serving sizes on the Nutrition Facts label).
The term “portion” means how much of a single food is actually on your dish—a portion size can vary from meal to meal. For example, one restaurant might serve larger portions than another.
Here’s a tip
Portion size can be a very real problem when eating out. To keep your portion sizes under control, try ordering one or two small appetizers instead of a large entrée. Or, you could share an entrée with a friend, or eat just half, and ask for a take-out container for the rest. Put the leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible. Then enjoy them the next day for lunch or dinner.
Here are some examples to help you understand about how much you are eating.
- Two tablespoons cream cheese = golf ball
- Three ounces meat or poultry = deck of cards
- 1—1-1/2 ounces cheese = four dice
- Three ounces grilled/baked fish = checkbook
- One cup cooked vegetables, salad, baked potato = baseball
Here are some more examples:
- Half cup fruit, beans, rice, noodles, or ice cream = cupcake wrapper, half of a baseball
- One teaspoon margarine or oil = tip of first finger
- One pancake or tortilla = compact disc or DVD
- Quarter cup raisins = large egg
- 3 ounces meat or poultry = palm of hand
Reading labels can help you make good food choices. Processed and packaged foods and drinks—you’ll find them in cans, boxes, bottles, jars, and bags—have a lot of nutrition and food safety information on their labels or packaging. Look for:
Product dates. You might see one of three types of product dates on some foods you buy:
- “Sell by” tells how long the store can sell foods like meat, poultry, eggs, or milk products—buy it before this date
- “Use by” tells how long the food will be at peak quality—if you buy or use it after that date, some foods might not be safe any longer
- “Best if used by” (or “best if used before”) tells how long the food has the best flavor or quality—it is not a purchase or safety date
Ingredients list. This tells you everything that a processed food contains. Did you know that the items are presented from largest to smallest ingredient? That is, there is more of the first ingredient listed on the label than any other ingredient. The last ingredient on the list is found in the smallest amount.
Nutrition Facts label. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a Nutrition Facts label on all processed food. You can find nutrition information for fresh vegetables and fruits from sources like www.nutrition.gov . Click on “Look up calories or nutrients in food.” Or you can call the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information Center at 1-301-504-5414.
The Nutrition Facts label is all white with black letters. You can see a sample label below, along with a few key things to know about it. To learn more about the information on this label, go to www.fda.gov , choose “Food,” then “Labeling and Nutrition,” and then “Consumer Information.”
At the top, you will find the FDA definition of a serving of that food or drink and the number of servings in the container. The rest of the nutrition information on the label is for one serving, not for the whole package or bottle. If a can or package holds two servings and you eat the whole thing, you have eaten double all the numbers on the Nutrition Facts label—twice the calories, twice the fat, twice the protein, twice the %DV, and so on.
Daily Value (DV) is how much of each nutrient most people need each day. The %DV says what part (as a percent) of the total daily recommendation for a nutrient is in a serving. The Daily Value is based on eating 2,000 calories each day, so if you are eating fewer calories and eat a serving of this food, your %DV will be higher than you see on the label.
Here’s a tip
If a food has 5% of the Daily Value or less, it is low in that nutrient. If it has 20% or more, it is high in that nutrient. Low or high can be either good or bad—it depends on whether you need more of a nutrient (like fiber), or less (like fat).
Carlos’s sister Sofia was surprised last week. She had been drinking a bottle of iced tea everyday with her lunch. But when she read the label, she discovered that each bottle was 2-1/2 servings!
That’s right. Manufacturers might put more than one serving in a container that looks like it is for one person. The soft drink or frozen pot pie dinner you were planning on having all by yourself might contain two or more servings. And that’s not just for packaged foods. Some bagels are so large they can equal two or more grains group servings. Pay attention to the measured size—you can’t assume these servings match those in the USDA Food Patterns or DASH plan.