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Dietitians Dish: Read labels, monitor salt, carbohydrates intake

By By Stephanie Whitley
March 4, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 3, 2014 at 9:04 p.m.

Stephanie Whitley

To continue our discussion of the nutrition facts label, we will continue down the list.

Sodium is an especially challenging nutrient to limit. It is measured in milligrams, and keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium. And don't be deceived by sea salt; it contains just as much sodium as table salt.

Our bodies only need 180 to 200 mg a day to survive, but the recommended limit for sodium is set at 1,500 mg/day. However, the average American consumes 3,436 mg a day.

Carbohydrates never need to be completely eliminated no matter what your nutrition goals are. On the other hand, excess is not helpful either.

Underneath the grams of total carbohydrates, fiber is listed. Fiber is technically a carbohydrate but cannot be digested by the body; therefore, no calories are gained.

Next is the sugar line; most people are very concerned with the grams of sugar in a product. One must remember that not only table sugar and syrups are counted here but also the natural sugars found in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose).

Look at milk, for example. There are about 13 grams of sugar per cup, but we know that there is no white table sugar coming out of that cow.

What would be more effective is reading the ingredients list. If sugar or a syrup is listed at the beginning you know the food is high in the type of sugar we want to avoid.

Fortunately, the nutrition facts label is getting a makeover. One of the improvements will be listing added sugars separately from natural sugars (lactose and fructose).

Finally, our nutrition facts label tells us the grams of protein provided per serving. Keep in mind that your body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein at a meal; therefore, eating more than this amount will lead to weight gain as fat storage.

It is tempting to eat large portions of protein because the media has told us it will build muscle - and it will - but only so much. Thirty grams of protein is about 4 ounces of meat. Be sure not to exceed this at a meal and keep in mind many other foods such as dairy contain protein as well.

I hope this helps you navigate the nutrition facts label more effectively in the years to come. Look for the nutrition facts makeover, and remember, you can still apply the rules we have discussed today to the new label.

Stephanie Whitley is a registered and licensed dietitian DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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