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Take it from an old English teacher - read
I’m not a clinician – not a nurse, not a dietitian. In other words I have no credentials at all when it comes to teaching people how to eat right. But I’ve spent 20 years working with nurses and dietitians, listening to them, scheduling their presentations and, sometimes, cooking with them. And I think I’ve learned a few things.
Dearest to my heart as a former English teacher is one of the things I’ve heard over and over again from the experts: read.
Read food labels, that is. But the dietitians, cardiac nurses and diabetes education nurses tell me that just reading doesn’t help much. You must think and calculate.
The first thing to read is the serving size. What sounds like a moderate amount of calories, sodium or fat doubles when you double the serving.
So the label says 10% of the daily requirement of sodium. But what number of total daily calories is that based on – a 2000 calories diet, 1800, 1600? When reading, it’s more important to look at the grams or milligrams of the ingredients on the label. If you’re limiting yourself to 1500 milligrams of sodium per day, the milligrams in a can of soup or beans can make a big difference. (1500 milligrams of sodium is the new 2010 recommendation for people with diabetes, high blood pressure or over 50, according to US government guidelines.)
Reading labels can be fun, but it’s not always appreciated by my fellow shoppers. I pull my cart over close to the right side of the aisle and try to read quickly. But that considerate move doesn’t always work. Even finding the “no salt added” tomatoes can be time-consuming – and traffic jamming. If I must compare two or three labels I no longer feel like the friendly shopper.
There are just so many numbers on those labels to consider: sodium, carbs, fat, serving size. What’s the considerate shopper to do?
One thing to do: spend more time in the produce aisles. But that brings up another problem. What if the produce was picked in California or some other far away place? How long did it take from vine to shelf? Often, we’re better off to buy frozen or even canned. Frozen or canned produce is quickly moved from the vine to be processed and often retains more of its vitamins and minerals than the “fresh” produce shipped for days to reach your grocery shelves. But canned goods may be high in sodium, so – again – read the label.
Even though I’m privy at work to the advice of pros, I sometimes feel lost in the supermarket. But there is help out there.
The University Extension Service has information. The River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition has recently published a book on healthy eating.
And, as I instructed my students many years ago, read. Read and ask – ask where your food comes from. Think about how it got to your supermarket or farmers market. Look for season-appropriate foods. Grow your own – salad greens in a sunny window or on your deck in the summer.
As a former English teacher, I couldn’t be more pleased at some of the best nutrition advice I hear: Read.