| By Irina Belfer-Lehat

The Nutrition Facts label is required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on most packaged foods and beverages. The Nutrition Facts label provides detailed information about a food's nutrient content, such as the amount of fat, sodium and fiber it has.

Knowing how to read food labels is especially important if you are an athlete. Very often, traveling and playing multiple matches during the week and on the weekend, an athlete will buy snacks and drinks at the local stores or vending machines. An athlete must be educated on properly identifying Key Ingredients and make a smart choice.

Here are Key Ingredients to look for:

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are not bad, but some may be healthier than others. See why carbs are important for your health and which ones to choose. Carbohydrates often get a bad rap, especially when it comes to weight gain. But they aren't all bad. Because of their numerous health benefits, carbohydrates have a rightful place in your diet. In fact, your body needs them to function. However, some carbs may be better for you than others. You must understand more about them and how to choose healthy carbohydrates.
Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include:

►Fruits
►Vegetables
►Milk
►Nuts
►Grains
►Seeds
►Legumes

There are three main types of carbs, and sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrate. Sugar occurs naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Sugars include fruit sugar (fructose), table sugar (sucrose) and milk sugar (lactose).

Starch is made of sugar units bonded together. Starch occurs naturally in vegetables, grains, and cooked dry beans and peas. Fiber also is made of sugar units bonded together. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cooked dry beans and peas are among foods that are naturally rich in fiber.

How many carbohydrates do you need?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates comprise 45 to 65 percent of your total daily caloric intake. So, if you get 2,000 calories a day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be from carbohydrates. That translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.

You can find the carbohydrate content of packaged foods by reading the Nutrition Facts label. The Nutrition Facts label shows total carbohydrates, which includes starches, fiber, sugar alcohols, and naturally occurring and added sugars. It may also list total fiber, soluble fiber and sugar separately. You may also be able to find nutrient calculators online or find information on a manufacturer's Web site.

What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates—which your body breaks down and absorbs—fiber isn't digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body. Fiber is commonly classified as soluble (it dissolves in water) or insoluble (it doesn't dissolve):

►Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley.
►Insoluble fiber: Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.

How much dietary fiber do you need?
For men age 50 or younger, it is recommended you consume 38 grams of dietary fiber per day. For women 50 years of age or younger, it is recommended you take in 25 grams of dietary fiber per day. For men age 51 or older, 30 grams of dietary fiber is recommended per day, while women age 51-plus should take in 21 grams of dietary fiber per day.

Protein
Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body, making up about 16 percent of our total body weight. Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. However, protein plays a major role in all of the cells and most of the fluids in our bodies. In addition, many of our body’s important chemicals—enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and even our DNA—are at least partially made up of protein. Although our bodies are good at “recycling” protein, we use up protein constantly, so it is important to continually replace it.

Fat
Fats are organic compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are a source of energy in foods. Fats belong to a group of substances called lipids, and come in a liquid or solid form. All fats are combinations of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

Age Group  Total Fat Limits
Children ages 2 to 3 30% to 40% of total calories
Children and adolescents ages 4 to 18 25% to 35% of total calories
Adults, ages 19 and older 20% to 35% of total calories

 

Age Group Total Fat Limits
Children ages 2 to 3 30% to 40% of total calories
Children and adolescents ages 4 to 18 25% to 35% of total calories
Adults, ages 19 and older 20% to 35% of total calories

Irina Belfer-Lehat is a New York State-licensed dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist. She may be reached by phone at (917) 769-8031 or e-mail irinalehat@gmail.com.
 

Irina Belfer-Lehat

Irina Belfer-Lehat of Nutrition Solutions Co. is a New York State-licensed dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist. Irina Lehat RD Nutrition Solutions offers group classes starting in September, for kids in kindergarten through high school. Small groups, affordable prices! Mention this article and receive 20 percent off any services. For more information, call (917) 769-8031, e-mail irinalehat@gmail.com or visit www.irinalehat.com.