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Prairie Fare: Pay Attention to Food Labels During American Heart Month

Julie Garden-Robinson Julie Garden-Robinson
If you are interested in health, all the information you need to make wise choices is on the food label.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I was surprised to see only a couple of cars in the parking lot. I was expecting a lot of participants in the activity.

I had a sinking feeling as I hopped out of our van. I quickly discovered that the door to the building was locked.

I thought I had the right date. My 12-year-old son plucked the letter with details about the kids’ activity out of my bag. Sure enough, we had the right date.

Maybe we’re really early, I thought to myself a little hopefully.

That wasn’t the issue. We were just 10 minutes early.

“Mom, we’re at the wrong place!” my son exclaimed.

“But it’s always here!” I exclaimed.

I grabbed the letter and discovered we had many miles to drive and not many minutes to get there. I’m sure my blood pressure increased more than a bit. I won’t go into details about our quick trip, but suffice it to say, luck was on our side that day. The event started late.

I relearned an important lesson that day: read the directions. My kids never will let me forget it. They’re in charge of logistics next time.

Sometimes the information we need is right in front of our faces or at our fingertips. We may be too preoccupied to pay attention, may make assumptions, may not understand the information or may choose to ignore the messages.

Think about going to a grocery store and making food choices. Do you read the nutrition labels and compare products?

If you are interested in health, all the information you need to make wise choices is on the food label. Nutrition Facts labels have been on food products since 1994. During February, American Heart Month, pause and read Nutrition Facts labels as you make choices.

Try this activity to better understand food labels. Grab a food package and a plate, bowl or measuring cup and consider these tips:

  1. Find the Nutrition Facts panel on the package. You’ll see the serving size in household measures (such as cups) and weight in grams. You also will note the number of servings per container. Sometimes the serving size is less than you may think. For example, 1 ounce (28 grams) of crackers (six crackers) is a common serving size. Measure or count out a serving of your food. Everything else on the label refers to that amount of food.
  2. Determine the number of calories. The amount indicated is not the amount for the entire container. The serving in front of you has that many calories. You also will note calories from fat. In my cracker example, 40 of the 120 calories per six crackers come from fat.
  3. Notice the first group of nutrients, which are fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Try to limit these nutrients. Too much of these can increase your risk for heart disease, cancer and/or high blood pressure.
  4. Note the column heading “Percent Daily Value” (abbreviated %DV). If the food in front of you has 20 percent or more of any particular nutrient, it is considered “high” in that nutrient. If it has 5 percent or less, it is considered “low” in that nutrient.
  5. Compare the amount of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and the minerals, calcium and iron. We need to get enough of these nutrients, but, unfortunately, many Americans shortchange themselves. These nutrients also carry a “percent daily value.” Try to reach 100 percent of what you need.
  6. Notice the “footnote” at the bottom of the label. This gives the goal amounts determined by public health experts.

Here’s a tasty snack with heart-healthy soluble fiber from beans. Read the labels on the ingredients when you choose them at the store.

Chili Bean Dip

1 16-ounce can pinto beans

2 Tbsp. chopped onion

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 c. finely shredded cheddar cheese

Mash beans in a bowl. Add onion, chili powder and the cheese, reserving a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top. Serve cold or warm it in a microwave oven. Serve with raw vegetables or baked tortilla chips.

Makes about eight servings. Each serving has 80 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 10 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: A Taste of Brazil is Worth Trying  (2019-07-18)  Give beans a try on your menu.  FULL STORY
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