How to Read a Food Label

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how important it is to check food labels while you are grocery shopping. That got me thinking that maybe I should write a blog post on how to actually read a food label. So I enlisted a little help from an intern. Today Catherine is guest blogging for us. Catherine is a dietetic intern at OSU, she has already finished her master’s degree and just has a few weeks of shadowing left before she is completely done. I hope you enjoy her blog post on food labels!

Food Label

  1. Start with the serving size. This tells you how much (grams, cups, ounces, etc) food/beverage there is for the number of calories, fats, protein, and nutrients listed. Paying attention to the serving size and how many servings there are per container is important. Many food packages contain more than one serving, so consuming the entire bag/package may mean eating 3-5 times the calories and nutrients listed on the label.
  2. Check calories. Calories are an indicator of energy. People are different sizes and therefore need different amounts of energy to fuel their body. The average number of calories a person needs per day is approximately 2000. However this ranges for how tall a person is and how much they weigh. A shorter person will need less energy than a tall person, etc. Next to Calories, is ‘calories from fat,’ which is an indication of how many of the total calories, come from fat. In the example listed above, 110 calories come from fat, which is almost 50%. A serving containing less than 40 calories is considered low, around 100 calories is moderate, and greater than 400 calories is high. Eating more calories than your body needs can lead to weight gain and obesity. To find out how many calories you need in a day click on this link
  3. Limit these nutrients. Total fat, cholesterol, and sodium when consumed in high amounts can have negative effects on your health. These in excess are linked to heart disease, and high blood pressure. The recommendation for total fat intake is approximately 20-30% of a person’s diet, so if you need 2000 calories, total calories that come from fat would be about 400-600 calories or 44-66 grams of fat per day.
  4. Get enough of these nutrients. Fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, are important nutrients to maintain good health. Fiber promotes healthy bowel functions and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and whole grains that contain soluble fiber, may help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  5. The footnote at the bottom of the label explains the Percent Daily Value of the nutrients recommended for all Americans. When this is listed on the food label, it will always be the same and does not change from product to product. These can be used as references (see #6) to see how much the certain food product contributes to meeting those recommendations.
  6. The Percent Daily Value (%DV) helps you determine if a serving is high or low in a nutrient. For example this label shows that one serving of Mac and Cheese contributes to 18% of total fat intake for a person who needs 200 calories. A good guide to %DV is that 5%DV is considered low for all nutrients and greater than 20%DV is considered high for all nutrients.

Remember that the nutrition label can help you limit the nutrients you want to cut back on but can also help you increase the nutrients you want to consume in greater amounts.

For more information please visit


Grocery Shopping – It’s Tricky

Whenever I grocery shop I usually take the time to stop and compare food labels. I think it is important to compare food labels because often times the front package of a product can be misleading. The food label on the back is always where you find the real facts.

A few weeks ago I was looking for coffee creamer and came across an interesting situation.

Label-3On the left is regular coffee creamer and on the right is the fat free version. Which one would you guess is healthier?

Here is the label for the regular creamer. Notice the regular creamer only contains 0.5 grams of saturated. That isn’t very much. Also notice that it contains 1 gram of carbohydrate and 10 calories.

Label 1-1

Now we look at the fat free version. Yes they did remove that 0.5 grams of fat and we are now left with zero. Do you notice what else changed?

Label 2-2

The total carbohydrates increased from 1 gram to 2 grams. Calories however stayed the same at 10. Basically, when the fat was removed so was the flavor. In order to make it tasty they had to add some carb to the fat free version.

So back to our question, which is healthier? Well in this case I would say it’s a toss up. Yes you are cutting out your saturated fat but the original amount was so small to begin with, and you are not decreasing your calories any.

I point this out not because I think coffee creamer is bad for you (I drink it every morning) or because I think food companies are evil (they are not). But it is important when grocery shopping to know what you are getting.Take time to read food labels and compare. Hm..I think that might make a good blog post, “How to Read a Food Label”. Stay tuned.

New Year’s Goals 2014

It is hard to believe that it has already been one year since I sat here and wrote about New Years Resolutions for 2013. I know we say this every year, but man that year went by fast! If you read through my post from last year you will see that one of my goals for 2013 was to read at least one book a month. Well for the first time ever in my life I kept my New Year’s resolution, I read 19 books in 2013!

Were you able to keep your goals for 2013? What are some of your goals for 2014? Let me guess, one of them is to get healthy or loose weight. This seems to be on the top of everyone’s list in January. I love it! As a dietitian I am so happy when people decide they want to get healthy, but how long does this usually last? Maybe until the first of February? Then all those fruits and veggies you bought for your juice cleanse are over ripe in the fridge and your gym bag is collecting dust in the back of your car. (I’ve been there, I’m not judging.)

Well let me offer you some quick tips to help you get healthy in 2014. First of all, it won’t be easy. It just will not. Prepare yourself for that battle right now, mentally and physically. If being healthy was easy and came naturally we would not be battling an obesity epidemic in America.

The best way to start is small and simple. Overwhelming yourself with goals that aren’t attainable is the quickest path to resolution ruin. Start small and grow bigger as you gain confidence. For example, if you never go to the gym don’t go out and buy a membership now. Instead start by taking walks around your neighborhood or playing basketball with your kids. These things probably fit much more naturally into your schedule and won’t be as intimidating. You don’t have to be at a gym to be “working out”, as long as your heart is pumping faster than normal you are making progress.

When it comes to your plate small steps are the key. Again, making drastic changes only causes you to get worn out faster. Instead of vowing to cut out sweets, decide to eat more fruits and vegetables. Instead of giving up soda completely, limit yourself to 3 sodas a week, etc. Supplements, juice cleanses, detox diets and other trends may help you loose temporary weight but they won’t help you get healthy. MyPlate is the perfect eating pattern to start getting healthy. You may look at it and think “that doesn’t work” but it does. It really does!

MyPlate Full

Getting healthy and loosing weight takes time and lots of commitment, but it is attainable. Don’t get frustrated and don’t overwhelm yourself. This year my goal is to run a 10k. I know that might not sound like much to some of you avid runners, but for this girl who hates running it really is a commitment. But just like you all I want to be healthy in 2014 too. Good luck, this can be your year!

P.S. I would love to hear some of your New Years Resolutions. Let me know in the comment section.

Chocolate Milk….Friend or Foe?

A glass of milk Français : Un verre de lait

I don’t like white milk. I really never have. I will put enough in my cereal to get it damp, but that is about the extent of my milk consumption. I have never been one to sit down and enjoy a glass of cold milk with my cookies. I just do not like it. Chocolate milk however, now we’re on to something. I have bit of a sweet tooth, and a love for all things chocolate so it’s a no-brainer that I would love chocolate milk.

Recently, in efforts to combat childhood obesity, many schools (some even right here in Oklahoma) have started removing chocolate milk from their lunch lines. I have also met many mothers since I started my job here with Extension that tell me they refuse to give their children chocolate milk because they are concerned about the high sugar content.

So is chocolate milk our foe? Should we be avoiding it?

One of the most common arguments I hear from opponents of flavored milk is that it is too high in sugar. Yes, flavored milk does have a higher sugar content than white milk, this is not a lie. However something you may be surprised to know is that an 8 oz serving of chocolate milk contains only 12 more grams of sugar than the same amount of white milk. These 12 extra grams are still less sugar than other common kids drinks such as fruit punch and cola’s.

Another common misconception is that chocolate milk is not as nutritious as white milk, but this is simply not the case. Chocolate milk is packed with the same 9 essential nutrients as white milk. These including among others calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D. All which are crucial for healthy growing kid.

It is no lie that we American’s are consuming way more sugar than we need, but before we start cutting out everything sweet lets weigh the pro’s & con’s. Did you know that many schools are finding when they remove chocolate milk from the lunchroom instead of kids picking white milk they are picking no milk at all!? Missing out on those essential nutrients I mentioned that are so important for growth and development.

So don’t buy into the lie, chocolate milk is not your foe, and for people like me who don’t like white milk it can be a great friend! Believe me if you stopped and examined your family’s diet you would find plenty of other (less nutritious) areas where you can start cutting sugar out of your diet.

Why I’m Not Going Gluten Free

Chances are if you have been around any kind of media source lately you have heard about the gluten-free fad. A recent poll done by a marketing research company found 30% of adults claim to be going gluten-free. Do you know someone who has gone gluten-free? Have you tried to go gluten-free yourself? Do you even know what gluten is? Before you decide to give up gluten it is important to know all of the facts.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is important to our foods because it is what gives baked products elasticity. Without gluten you would not be able to shape your pizza dough or knead your bread dough. Contrary to what you may have heard gluten is not a toxin and it is not a harmful particle.

So why would cutting this little protein out of your diet help you feel better? For a small percentage of the population going gluten-free is not an option. They have a disease called Celiac’s which keeps their body from being able to digest the gluten protein. For these people ingesting gluten can lead to severe gastrointestinal discomfort and they must avoid all gluten containing products. However, if you are not part of the estimated 1% of the population suffering from Celiac then there is little research to support a gluten-free diet being beneficial to you.

Many partakers of the gluten-free diet claim to have more energy, weight loss, and just all around feel better. However, these results are probably more related to them cutting fast foods/processed foods out of their diet and being forced to consume more fruits and vegetables in attempts to avoid gluten. These are two healthy and beneficial steps you can take without going on a gluten-free diet. 

Going gluten-free also means having to cut valuable grains out of your diet, especially whole grains that are high in fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. These whole grains are beneficial in helping to prevent high cholesterol, diabetes, and many other conditions. Unfortunately many of the gluten-free substitutes have little to no nutritional value since they are made with refined grains.

Before starting any diet it’s always important to make sure quality research has been done and the results are positive. Instead of going gluten-free make a more conscious effort to avoid fast foods and increase your fruit and vegetable consumption. Switch from white breads to 100% whole grain breads. Get 30 minutes of exercise a day. After all these changes see how you start feeling. These small steps are enough to keep me feeling healthy, and that’s why I’m not going gluten-free any time soon!

March: National Nutrition Month


Every March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hosts National Nutrition Month. The theme for this years event is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day”. I love this theme. I love it because it is personal. Many times we start feeling like eating healthy is a small box that we all have to fit ourselves into and a lot of times our lifestyle does not fit into that box! But this is far from the truth. There are many ways that you can eat healthy no matter your lifestyle.

For me eating healthy does not include fixing a dinner at home every night. I am a single girl on the go. With my job I am out on the road frequently, even working some nights and weekends. During the winter you can find me all over the state at wrestling events watching my boyfriend coach. Other times of the year you might find me traveling around with my mom. On weekends I like to eat out with my family and friends. My point is I am never in one place very long and eating a healthy homemade meals isn’t always an option.

Healthy eating for me involves keeping nutritious snacks available so when I’m on the road I’m not tempted to stop for sugary or fatty foods. It’s choosing a bottle of water at the concession stand instead of soda. And it’s choosing marinara sauce instead of cream sauce on my pasta when I eat out. These are a just a few examples of the little choices I make daily that allow me to incorporate healthy eating into my lifestyle. Eating healthy does not have to mean you can’t enjoy the world around you.

How do you include healthy eating in your lifestyle?

73111 – An Eye Opening Experience


In Northeast Oklahoma City from Kelly Ave. west to 1-35 and from NE 16th north to NE 78th lies the zip code of 73111. This rectangular area of land is one of the unhealthiest zip codes both in the state and the nation.

My co-worker and I are part of a coalition in Oklahoma City that is working to make healthier lifestyles a common part of Oklahoma City life. For our December meeting the coalition was challenged to bring a healthy snack, and buy all of the ingredients in 73111. What a great challenge this was!

Since neither one of us was extremely familiar with this area we started by using a GPS to search for grocery stores. The first “grocery store” we found was actually a run down convenience store, we did not even bother to look inside. The next store was published as a “food market”. This had to be more promising, right? As we entered inside we realized this was not a grocery store at all. The shelves were lined with scarce amounts of groceries, mostly canned goods and boxed items, all which were covered in a thick layer of dust. There was no fresh produce, no whole grains, not even any milk. So we struck out again.

After a few more minutes of searching the neighborhood we were actually able to find a branch of a locally owned grocery store. While this was a huge step up from the first two stores it was still about half the size of most grocery stores in Oklahoma City and offered a lot less products. We were able to scrounge up enough produce to make a salsa and grabbed (what I think was) the only box of whole grain crackers in the store.

I wrote this post because I wanted to share what an eye opening experience this was for me. As I dietitian I tell people how to eat and what healthy is, but I always blindly assume these people have healthy foods and produce available to them. As a society we naively think if someone is not eating healthy it is because they made the choice not to, but what about the population who is never given a choice?

It breaks my heart to realize we are living in the year 2013 yet there are families right here in Oklahoma City that have very little access to fruits, vegetables, and milk. Many families in this neighborhood do not own a car so they can’t just drive over to the next zip code, and would you want to be walking far in this cold winter weather? I am so glad I got to take part in this challenge. From now on I will be much more mindful of what “healthy” options are available to those I am working with. I will also not take for granted anymore the short drive I have to 3 or 4 different grocery stores within my area.