For those of us wanting to get into the new year eating right and making healthier choices, here are a few pointers when picking foods off the shelf.

I suggest starting at the top of the label. Glance at the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Most foods have more than one serving in the package.
 
Second in line is the calorie amount. Calories are a measure of energy you get from food. The General Guide to Calories is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Eating too many calories in a day can lead to obesity.
 
As an example, let's take the label for Kraft macaroni and cheese. Note that one serving is about 1 cup. Assuming you'll eat the food after its prepared and not right out of the box, you will consume 400 calories with that one cup of mac 'n cheese. 
 
Now let's assume that one mere cup of mac 'n cheese doesn't satiate your hunger and you eat the whole box. How many servings are in the whole box? The answer is 3.
 
So, let's multiply the amount of calories (400) by 3. That equals 1200 calories. 
 
Simply put, that's a lot of calories, especially if you want to eat something besides one box of Macaroni and Cheese in a day.  If you ate one box of that for lunch, what about the calories from breakfast and dinner?  What about the soda you drank at lunch? That 12 oz can of Coke cost you another 140 calories. 
 
You can see it is easy to accumulate more than the standard 2,000 calories per day. Several "diets" reduce you to 1800 or even a more stringent 1200 calories per day. On a 1200-calorie per day diet, once you eat that one box of mac 'n cheese, you're done.  Well, besides water.
 
This is not to say that you can never eat mac 'n cheese. But it is a good idea to be cognizant of the numbers on the label before putting the food in your mouth.
 
Let's take another example of Honey Nut Cheerios. You are making a healthier choice by switching to skim milk instead of 2% as it is lower in fat.
How much is in one serving? And how many calories are in that one serving?
 
Several cereals have one serving equal 3/4 cup. But who really uses a three-quarter measuring cup for cereal? I suggest trying the measuring cup for a few rounds to get an idea on how much you're actually eating. 
 
For practice, view the Honey Nut Cheerios label here, and assume you eat 1 1/2 cups of cereal.  How many calories is this? If you've answered 300, you're right.
 
Consider making a food diary for one week, marking down what foods you eat and how many calories consumed therein. If you have a smartphone, check out the MyFitnessPal app, which is an easy way to monitor your calories. Being aware of how much you are putting in your mouth is the first step in making healthier food choices. 
 
In part 2 we will go over fat and cholesterol and how those numbers are addressed on the food label. Stay tuned!
 

Michele Brannan is a certified Physician Assistant and has been in practice in the Riverbend area for 10 years.

The health information provided herein is not intended to replace the advice or discussion with a healthcare provider and is for educational purposes only. Before making any decisions regarding your health, speak with your healthcare provider.

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