Luckily, consumers don’t have to burn food samples or perform chemical tests to find their food’s calorie content. This information can be found on the Nutrition Facts panel found on most packaged food labels. Many nutritionists also refer to handbooks such as Food Values of Portions Commonly Used by Bowes and Church. And information on the calorie and nutrient content of many foods can be found online at a number of Web sites, including that of the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search, as well as at www.thedailyplate.com, www.fitday.com, and www.calorieking.com.
While the number of calories in your diet ultimately determines whether you gain or lose weight, the nutrients in food deserve some attention, too. After all, you need nutrients keep your body functioning well, and when you reduce your calorie intake to lose weight, it becomes more important than ever to make sure you’re choosing foods that provide both the macronutrients — carbohydrate, protein, and fat — as well as the micronutrients — vitamins, minerals, and other trace elements — that you need.
Carbohydrate is found in grains and foods made from grains, dried beans and legumes, sugars and syrups, milk products, fruits, and vegetables. Foods that contain carbohydrate provide energy, vitamins, minerals, and in some cases, fiber. Because carbohydrate has a direct effect on blood glucose level, there is much debate over how much carbohydrate is appropriate in the diets of people with diabetes. Some people choose to eat very little carbohydrate; others take other dietary approaches.
However, no matter how much carbohydrate you choose to include in your diet, you will usually get more out of it by choosing foods that are unrefined or only minimally processed. Whole or minimally processed grains, in particular, tend to contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than highly processed grains and grain products. Simply prepared fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables also generally have more nutrients and less added sugar, salt, and fat than canned or otherwise processed fruits and vegetables.
Getting enough fiber in your diet is important not only for bowel function but also for its positive effects on blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels. Eating high-fiber foods can also help you feel full sooner, so you may feel more satisfied on fewer calories.
Even when you’re making healthy, high-fiber choices, however, keep in mind that whole-grain bread, high-fiber cereal, and brown rice still contain calories. You can gain as much weight eating too much whole wheat pasta as you would eating too much regular pasta. Read the labels when you choose packaged foods, particularly those that boast of their nutrition virtues. They may be natural, fat-free, and high in protein, but they may also be high in calories.
Protein is found in meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dried beans and legumes, dairy products, soy products, nuts and nut butters, and grains. Small amounts of protein are also found in vegetables. Protein is needed by the body to build and repair tissues. Protein also provides energy, and foods high in protein provide varying amounts of iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Like the debate over how much carbohydrate should be in the diets of people with diabetes, there is also debate over the appropriate amount of protein in the diets of people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, there’s no reason for people who have diabetes and normal kidney function to consume other than the usual protein intake of most Americans, which is 15% to 20% of total daily calories. However, the Joslin Diabetes Center guideline for overweight and obese adults with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes recommends that about 20% to 30% of calories come from protein, unless a person has any signs of kidney disease. The Joslin recommendation is based on research suggesting that dietary protein aids in the sensation of fullness after meals and that low-protein meal plans are associated with increased hunger.