Keep an eye on nutrition labels: Columnist says being healthy is about “making choices”

By: Noelle Harada, Columnist

It’s the beginning of a new year and everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell the new solution for weight loss. With “low-calorie” this, “fat-free” that, and “no carbs” in between, where do you begin? 

As you walk down the aisle at the grocery store, the options can be overwhelming, and deciding what to buy often comes down to packaging. It is easy to make a decision based on what the box is telling you, but don’t fall into the sea of “low-fat” and “low-calorie” if you are vowing to live a healthy lifestyle this year.

The truth is that living a healthy lifestyle isn’t about depleting yourself of fat, carbs or calories. It’s about making choices to nourish your body and fuel your brain for whatever college has in store.

As active human beings, we need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water in order to survive. Each of these six nutrients is just as essential as the next, but our society tends to praise some and shun others.

For example, eating fat will not make you fat, and eating an abundance of protein will not give you the muscles of a body builder. Fat acts as energy storage, helps to regulate body temperature, protects the organs, helps to maintain healthy hair and skin, and promotes cell functions. These bodily functions are just as significant as the cell growth and repair facilitated by protein.

Buying food at the grocery store for a healthy lifestyle involves common sense and a bit of reading. If the food item does not have a label, chances are it is a good choice.

If you think about it, foods that do not have a label include fruits, vegetables and meat or seafood, and it’s common sense that these foods are good for you. For example, an extra-large apple and a Twinkie contain about the same number of calories. If asked which item is healthier, everybody would choose the apple.

If the food item does have a label, it is important to look past the “health” advertisements on the front. Turning the package around and reading the back is a good start to living a healthy lifestyle. Before you look at the calories, read the ingredients. Two important things to notice as you read the ingredient list are the items listed and the number of items on the list. As a general rule of thumb, the simpler the ingredient list, the better.

For example, peanut butter truly only needs one ingredient: peanuts. Granted, most commercial peanut butters contain ingredients to prevent oil separation and preservatives to keep the product fresh. Even at that, most peanut butters contain no more than six total ingredients (relatively few).

However, peanut butters labeled as “low-fat” usually contain double the amount of ingredients and have one some kind of corn syrup solid as the first listed item. Although “low-fat” peanut butter may seem like a healthier option, the healthy fats from the peanuts get replaced by other ingredients with little nutritional value. This makes the full-fat option a better choice.

Just as low-fat and low-calorie foods aren’t necessarily healthy, neither is avoiding carbohydrates. Carbs are often looked at in a bad light, but they act as an essential source of energy. Without carbohydrates, we would not make it through a long day of classes, studying, socializing and working out.

Instead of avoiding carbohydrates, try to buy products made with whole grains rather than refined grains. Whole grains are a good source of fiber and contain many heart-healthy nutrients.

With so many bread options at the grocery store, it can be difficult to determine which bread is the healthiest option. Wheat bread is not the same as whole grain. Look out for the word “whole” or “100 percent whole grain” on the list of ingredients. The terms “enriched flour,” “de-germinated,” “bran” or “wheat germ” indicate that the bread is probably not made from whole grains. Just like buying anything else at the store, reading the ingredient list is an essential part of purchasing your carbohydrates.

Changing your shopping habits at the grocery store is a great way to start off the New Year. If your goal is to live a healthier lifestyle, then changing your viewpoint on food is imperative. Choosing healthy foods is not always about what the package says; using common sense and reading the ingredients is essential for making healthy choices.

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