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An example of a food label.

Understanding Food Labels

By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

When you’re out grocery shopping, are you one to turn the product over to view the food label? Or are you more attracted to what the front of the product has on display? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of us do not know how to read a food label.

A food label is defined as “the wrapper on a food [item] within the United States that must contain nutritional information for use by the consumer according to a specified format and size.” They all carry the title “Nutrition Facts” in bold type at the top of the label. With labels required on every food item within the United States, it’s crucial to understand what the nutritional facts on each item really mean for us and our bodies.

“The average American doesn’t bother to read food labels because it’s time consuming, [and it] requires more thinking and holding yourself accountable for what you eat,” said Margaret Fisher, R.D., CDE, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. “At first it can be frustrating, but when you keep practicing you will get better and you will become faster [at reading the labels]. Some people think they should count calories, so they just look at the calories, but the entire food label is very important.”

Wouldn’t you like to know what you put into your body? Educating yourself could possibly save your life 10 or 20 years down the road. Perhaps you have a relative who has eaten fry bread every day for years. Here are the nutrition facts on fry bread: According to www.caloriecount.com, a 10½-inch fry bread has 526 calories, 15.2 grams total fat, 1112 milligrams sodium, 85.3 grams carbohydrates and 11.4 grams protein. When consumed daily over time, it’s obvious that fry bread can cause health problems.

“[Knowing how to read a food label] is very important so you know what you put in your body. Not being responsible and not being aware just doesn’t make sense. Everything that goes into your body will be absorbed and affect the cells in your body,” said Fisher.

“For example, trans fat is the worst fat because it causes inflammation—you produce plaque in your arteries, which leads to heart attacks and more. What if you ate a product with trans fat every day for 15 years and you didn’t know it? This can lead to health complications that could have been avoided if you just took the time to read the label.”

Of course, each of us is different, but knowing how to read labels will definitely be beneficial to you and your health.

“Everybody has different [health] goals, and it’s good to know all of this [information]. Someone who has high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or other health complications should know all of this because it will affect their insulin or medication intake. If you consider yourself to be a healthy person, the most important things to look out for are trans fats and sodium,” said Fisher.

The areas in red (see photo) affect your blood pressure, arteries and your heart health. “Those with diabetes should watch their ABC’s: A is for sugars, B is for blood pressure, and C is for cholesterol. If you have diabetes, you are at risk for heart problems. Try really hard to stick to [numbers that are] 20% or less; 5% or less would be really great. For the green areas, you want to push those up because they are really healthy. Anything near 20% is great. Like fiber—you want to [have a high fiber intake],” said Fisher.

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Understanding Food Labels