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ST. MARYS — Seniors from the county area received a lesson in how to read food labels as part of a presentation at the Auglaize County Council on Aging on Thursday.
Debbie Brown, a Family Nutrition Program assistant with The Ohio State University-Extention Office, helped the group of seniors at the ACCA dissect nutrition labels and what they can do to help their diets.
“Today, we’re going to talk about food labels,” Brown said.
She then asked the group of seniors who currently takes the time to look at food labels, and if they do, what they look for and, if they don’t look at them, why don’t they.
After taking answers, Brown brought out a giant food label and started to dissect each word.
“We start at the top — we see what we are looking out, how many do we have and then we start looking at the details,” Brown said as she noted the per serving notation and the number of calories.
She then stopped at total fat.
“One column will tell you the number of grams in a serving and the other will tell you percentage,” she said. “That percentage is based upon a 2,000 calorie diet. The one we kind of base our stuff on is the 2,000 calorie diet.”
Under the total fat section, Brown also noted the difference between different types of fats.
“Trans fats are the ‘bad’ fats for you,” she said. “They’re usually the manufactured fats. Think about saturated fats as coming from animals, and unsaturated fats come from plants.”
Brown noted companies have started labeling items that don’t have trans fats.
“They’re realizing trans fats are bad for you so they started putting that on the labels,” she said.
Brown continued down the list, noting the cholesterol item.
“A lot of people are watching cholesterol levels because of their own body,” she said, noting the amount of cholesterol is listed in milligrams. “Next is sodium, which is also in milligrams.”
She noted one of the reasons a person may watch sodium is to lower their blood pressure.
“If you are on blood pressure medication, chances are your doctor tells you to watch your sodium,” Brown said. “We tend to eat way too much salt in this country.”
Sodium, she added, can be found in foods such as potato chips, hot dogs and other processed meats.
“If you need to watch your sodium intake, there are substitutes,” Brown noted.
“You can use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride, which is found in the same aisle.”
When Brown asked the seniors why they use salt — the ultimate answer was to add flavor. She suggested an alternative.
“If you need to add flavor to your food, use your herbs,” she said.
Brown kept going down the nutrition label, settling on carbohydrates. For diabetics, Brown suggested watching carb intake, instead of just the amount of sugars going in.
“Once they’re in the body, carbs turn into sugars,” she said. “Watch your total carbs, not just the amount of sugar.”
Brown also noted dietary fiber and noted the biggest source of dietary fiber is in whole grains.
“Your grains — especially if you’re eating whole grains — will give you a high percentage of fiber,” she said, also noting fruit and veggies with a peel, such as an apple, are also sources of fiber.
On the label, Brown also noted the section for protein, the portion toward the bottom of the label that lists vitamins and minerals and the ingredient list.
Brown then separated the seniors in to groups and gave each group a bag of food labels.
“Your mission is to go through these and read the food labels and see if there’s something that surprises you,” she said.
She gave the groups 10 minutes and then had a few of them reveal what they found. One senior noted chicken she uses that was listed at 98 percent fat free but also had 250 mg of sodium.
“If you’re on a salt-free diet, you have to scratch that,” she said.
Another senior noted the amount of sodium in Progresso soup, while another read the labels on green beans and another read the label on frozen green beans. Two others read the labels on canned green peas and on frozen green peas.
“If you compare frozen to canned, frozen is going to be closer to natural,” Brown said, noting the biggest thing in canned produce is the amount of salt.
“If you are using canned goods, you need to watch your salt. Rinse them — it will not take off all the salt, but it will take off some of the excess. If you are eating frozen veggies, usually there’s not much, but if you are on a sodium diet, you can rinse them.”
For sodium watchers, Brown added another alternative.
“Don’t add any more salt — or don’t eat it,” she said.