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Community Garden

Identifying Hidden Calories

Content by: Erin (Nugent) Bern, RD

Help your clients to identify unwanted ingredients in their foods and how they may impact their overall health. Use this information about added sugars, trans fats, and excess sodium to arm your clients with the knowledge they need to make educated choices while grocery shopping and establish an overall nutrient dense diet.

Identifying Hidden Calories





Being aware of these ingredients helps consumers to make better choices in their everyday lives. Use this information to make educated choices about your diet and to help you to identify and choose nutrient dense foods.

Excess Sodium...
Sodium is an essential mineral, needed for many bodily functions. However, when eaten in excess it can lead to health problems like high blood pressure. Packaged, processed, and restaurant prepared foods are the main source of sodium in the American diet. So even if you never use the salt shaker at the table, you are likely consuming excess sodium through processed foods alone. According to the CDC, the average American consumes roughly 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Reducing sodium intake to 2,300mg is shown to be an effective strategy to reduce blood pressure, helping to prevent heart attacks and stroke. Start by focusing on fresh, whole foods and read labels on packaged and prepared foods. When cooking, reach for fresh herbs, spices and vegetables for flavor instead of salt! Watch out for sauces and condiments. Drain and rinse canned items to reduce the sodium content by 40%. Stop adding salt to pasta water, you will likely add sauce and seasonings later on in the preparation process. Over time your tastebuds can adjust to a diet lower in salt, and you will even start to prefer it!

Trans fats...
Some trans fats are naturally occurring in small amounts in animal products.
Artificial trans fats are created through a process that adds hydrogen to liquid oils in order to make them more solid. Trans fats are used to improve the texture and taste of many comfort foods (doughnuts, baked goods, pizza, pie crust, biscuits, cookies etc.) You may find them listed in the ingredients list as “partially hydrogenated oils”. Consuming trans fats is associated with a higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It has been shown to raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and lower HDL levels (good cholesterol). Limit the amount of trans fat in your diet by reading food labels and taking note of what kind of oils are used in the cooking of your favorite foods. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are a much better option.

Added sugars...
Added sugars are different from naturally occurring sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods like fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sweeteners or syrups that are added to foods during preparation or at the table before consumption. Beverages are a major culprit of added sugars in the American diet. This includes things like regular soda, sweetened coffee drinks, and fruit cocktail juice. Consuming added sugar in large quantities contributes zero nutrients and a lot of calories to your diet. Current day nutrition labels have actually added a line to identify the amount of “added sugars” in a product in order to specify the difference between added and naturally occurring sugars. One of the first steps to reducing added sugar in your diet is to identify them in the food you eat on a daily basis.

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