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When surveyed, Grundy County residents listed obesity-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes as major concerns. These issues can be addressed in a hospital with a doctor and a hefty bill. However, wouldn’t it be a blessing if we could prevent these health issues before needing the hospital? The good news is this is possible! It can start with learning to read the nutrition label on prepared foods, the same one that we started talking about last week.
Pick up a packaged food item and look for a big white table titled Nutrition Facts. Note first the Serving Size. Serving sizes vary widely between food items. Similar foods should have a similar serving size. For example, milk items should each be one cup. Vegetables are usually one-half cup. Bread is often one slice. A cup is 8 ounces or roughly the size of the palm of your hand or a tightly squeezed fist. One-half cup is like a full cupcake wrapper.
Secondly, note the Calories. Calories give us energy but not all calories are created equal. Some are empty calories and some nutritious ones. Empty calories are found in foods like cake, cookies, soda, candy, sugary drinks and juices, margarine, and alcohol. Empty calories provide little nutritional benefits, are hard to ‘burn’ off, and slowly, but surely, add inches to your waistline. When we eat too many calories, the excess energy is stored in our bodies as unwanted fat. In reality, if we eat an excess of 3,500 calories a week, we’ll gain at least one pound. That’s just 500 extra calories per day, equal to one large serving of fries or a sausage biscuit.
Vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains provide nutritious calories. For example, a serving of oatmeal (one cup cooked) is 150 heart healthy calories. A large apple has 100 calories, and a serving of cooked green beans has less than 50 calories, both of which provide fiber and vitamins. A fried chicken leg has over 400 calories, while a grilled chicken breast, or a roasted drumstick has only 120 calories. A 12 ounce can of coke has 140 calories and a 20 ounce bottle has 240, but neither provides vitamins, protein, or fiber so are considered empty calories. Some items, such as alcohol, don’t have nutrition labels. Alcoholic beverages actually deplete the body of needed nutrients – but we’ll address that in another column.
In conclusion, it is important to look at the Nutrition Facts to be aware of what and how much we eat. More importantly, as habits start during childhood, so do factors causing obesity and related illnesses, such as diabetes. One of those factors is an excess of empty calories. Let’s invest in our children’s future with nutritious meals that have more good than empty calories. To learn more about how to get the most bang for your buck in the grocery store and how to read labels, call the Health Department to register for the next Shopping Matters tour beginning soon.
Don’t run on empty! Choose health!
Contributing to this column were University of the South students Linnea Carver and Ben Almassi.