The Basics Made Simple

Daily Nutrition Guide

Getting Started, An Assessment

Perfect Serving Sizes

Choosing Healthy Food

Tips for Good Eating


Choosing Healthy Food

It is not always easy to choose the healthiest products for your family

Food labels can be confusing and many people do not have the time to read every one. Food labels are required for most prepared foods whereas the labeling of fruits, vegetables and fish is voluntary.

The FDA monitors the supply of all food and beverages except for meat, poultry and eggs, which the USDA oversees.

You will find three areas of information on a food or beverage package; the front of the package messages, the Nutrition Facts Panel on the back of the box and the list of ingredients. It is best to look at the back of the package because advertising on the front of the package can be deceptive and the claims may not always be accurate.

Manufacturers want you to buy their products. That is their ultimate goal, and children are even more vulnerable to the unhealthy foods that are being promoted because they do not understand the concept of advertising. They are often driven to select a product by the picture or character on a package.

There is a new trend to sell food as “medicine.” “Lower cholesterol,” or “improves bowel health” are some claims that you read and hear. That simplistic natural “prescription” is misleading. Focus on food for nutrition and not a quick fix for a health issue. If you eat a plant-based diet with lots of variety, you will reap the benefit of the many nutrients that are abundant in whole food. Choosing the healthiest food products is essential for health.

Read more below to find out how to read a food label, the meaning of the many claims you see on a package, as well as the best choices for fruits, vegetables and fish.

How to read a food label
A. Nutrition Facts Label

1. Serving Size
In this section you will find how many serving sizes are in the product you selected. This is important because if you eat a whole bag of chips, you may think you are only eating 100 calories because that is what was listed under Calories. But then you see that the bag serves 4, and you really would have eaten 400 calories, not 100. The number of calories, amount of each nutrient, and % Daily Value (%DV) of a food is based on serving size. Serving sizes are given in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., number of grams.

2. Calories
The amount of calories in one serving is listed on the left side and the amount of calories that comes from fat in that one serving is listed on the right. Calories are important, especially if you want to manage your weight (lose, gain, or maintain). In this example, there are 250 calories, 110 of which come from fat.

3. The Unhealthy Nutrients, Limit These
Eating too much total fat (including saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, or sodium can increase your risk of certain diseases. Stay under 100% DV for each of these nutrients each day as they have been linked to heart disease, cancers, and high blood pressure. Try and choose products under 20% DV for total fat. Note: DV for these unhealthful nutrients are maximum amounts, not goals to be reached.

4. The Good Nutrients, Get Enough of These
The healthy nutrients that must be listed on a label include fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Most Americans do not eat enough of these nutrients in their diets, and children are especially at risk of not getting enough calcium during their critical growing period. Make sure your child eats or drinks enough servings of the four nutrients listed above to equal 100% DV for each. Eating enough of these nutrients may improve health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Note: You will see other vitamins listed from time to time, but listing them is not mandatory.

5. Percent (%) Daily Value
This section informs you if the nutrients listed in one serving (total fat, sodium, dietary fiber, etc.) contribute a little or a lot to the amount you need every day.
The % DV is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Even though most children do not need this many calories every day, you can still use this section to determine how well a product provides good nutrition or how much unhealthful nutrients it contains. For example, 18% for total fat means that one serving supplies 18% of the total amount of fat that you should eat in a day. Note: 5% DV or less is low and 20% DV or more is considered high.

6. Footnotes with Daily Values (% DVs)
The footnote at the bottom of the label lists the total amounts that the DV was based on for important nutrients, including fats, sodium and fiber. The amounts for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium are the maximum amounts that you should eat every day, not a goal to be reached. That means you should try to stay below the amounts listed.

Total carbohydrates refer to sugar, fiber and complex carbohydrates. You will see Total Carbohydrate broken into fiber and sugar in this section. Select food high in fiber (at least 2-3 grams per serving) and in general, low in sugar. Healthy options include vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Since no daily value has been set for sugar, you cannot tell at first glance if the food is high or low in sugar. Also, sugar refers to both added sugar and that normally occurring in the product, like lactose (the sugar in milk) or sucrose (the sugar in fruit). Healthy food may be high in carbohydrates and have no added sugar; these include whole grains, milk and fruit. But if you just look at the sugar content, it will look high.
You should try and reduce the amount of added sugar in your child’s diet as it contributes to weight gain and it is considered empty calories. That means that there are little to no nutrients like vitamins and minerals that come along with it. To select foods low in added sugar look to the list of ingredients. If any added sugar is in the top 3 ingredients then it has too much sugar. Be aware that added sugar takes on many forms on a food label. Here is a list of some of them:
• brown sugar
• corn sweetener
• corn syrup
• dextrose
• fructose
• fruit juice concentrates
• glucose
• high-fructose corn syrup
• honey
• invert sugar
• lactose
• maltose
• malt syrup
• molasses
• raw sugar
• sucrose
• sugar
• syrup

Whole Grains
Tips to choosing products with enough whole grains to make a difference:
1. Make sure there are 3-5 grams of fiber per serving
2. Look at the list of ingredients for the word “whole” to appear in the first or second ingredient:”whole wheat,” “whole oat flour” are some examples.
3. Don’t be fooled by “contains whole grains” on the front of the box. A product can say this and only contain a miniscule amount of whole grain.
4. The Whole Grain Council has made it easy to identify whole grain products. Look for this stamp that says 100% Whole Grain. This means that all the grains in a product are made from 100% whole grains and that the product contains at least one serving of whole grain. Be careful though as they also have a stamp that says Whole Grain when only 1/2 of the product contains whole grains and the rest can come from processed grains.

The List of Ingredients
This is the best place to look to get an overall quick snapshot of the healthfulness of the product. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance with the ingredient used in the highest amount listed first followed in descending order to the ingredient used in the least amount. The first 2 ingredients should be healthy ones, such as fruit, vegetable, whole grains, low fat milk and protein. If they are sugar or fat, the product is most likely not what you want to feed your children, unless of course you are buying salad dressing, oils, or a bag of sugar for baking. Try to avoid products with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame K, Splenda, sucralose, saccharine, neotame).

Nutrient Content Claims
Did you ever wonder what fat free, natural or organic means on a food label? It may not be what you think. Check out the definitions below.
Daily Values: Nutrient Claims
• A Good Source of: If a label claims the product is a good source of a specific nutrient, which means it contains 10 to 19% the Daily Value (DV).
• High: If the food contains 20% or more. An example of this would be that milk is a good source of calcium because it supplies at least 20% of the amount of calcium that one needs (eating a 2000 calorie diet) in one day
• Low: If the food contains 5% or less.

Calories: The unit of energy in food and beverages.

Calories free: Less than 5 calories per serving

Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving


Sugar free: Less than 0.5 grams (g) of sugar per serving

Reduced sugar: The product has at least 25% less sugar per serving than the regular version


High fiber: The serving has 5 g or more of fiber

Good source of fiber: The serving has 2.5 g to 4.9 g of fiber


Fat free: Less than 0.5 g of fat or saturated fat per serving

Saturated fat free: Less than 0.5 g of saturated fat and less than 0.5 g of trans fatty acids

Low fat: contains 3 g or less of total fat

Low saturated fat: contains 1 g or less of saturated fat

Reduced fat or less fat: The product has at least 25% less fat than the regular version. This by itself does not mean the product is low in fat because even after the 25% reduction, the total fat amount may still be very high. Check the nutrition label for total amounts.


Cholesterol free: There is less than 2 mg per serving

Low cholesterol: The serving has 20 mg or less

Reduced cholesterol or less cholesterol: The product has at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular version

Trans fat free: The product has less than 0.5 grams per serving. It is important to note that a product can still contain trans fat and the only way to be sure is to look for the word “partially hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients. Some manufacturers dropped their serving sizes so that each contained less than 0.5 grams per serving. Choose products with no trans fat at all. Also avoid products that contain “hydrogenated” oils.


Sodium free or salt free: less than 5 mg of sodium per serving

Very low sodium: The serving has 35 mg of sodium or less

Low sodium: The serving has 140 mg of sodium or less

Reduced sodium or less sodium: The product has at least 25% less sodium than the regular version

The FDA has not defined the word “natural” so it doesn’t really mean much of anything on a product. The current guideline is that the term natural is to be used on food products as long as it “is truthful and not misleading,” and does not contain artificial colors or flavors or “synthetic substances.”
For meat and poultry products, the term "natural" may be used when products contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives and are no more than minimally processed. Beyond that, the USDA does not have oversight into the treatment of the animals as it does when the “organic” seal is used.

There are several “levels” of Organic that can appear on a label and it is based on the percent of organic ingredients in the product.

100% Organic: The products contain 100% organically produced ingredients and processing aids, not counting added water and salt.

Organic: The product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, not counting added water and salt, and have no added sulfites. Up to 5% of it may be from non-organic ingredients.

Made with Organic Ingredients: The product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, not counting added water and salt, and have no added sulfites except for wine. Up to 30% of it may be from non-organic ingredients.

Product has some Organic Ingredients: This is for products with less than 70% organic ingredients.
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the National Organic Program (NOP) oversees agricultural products that are sold and labeled, in the United States as Organic. The exception for this is small operations (sales totals $5,000 or less). Look for this seal.

Click here for a definition of organic meat.

Note: Organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthy for you. Corn syrup, potato chips, and cookies are some of the products that can be labeled organic. While cookies made from organic ingredients provide less toxic residue from pesticides used in farming practices, it doesn’t mean that the cookies are healthy for you or your children.

Sustainable: This term applies to locally grown food and meat that use sustainable agricultural practices. These include growing food by using techniques that do not harm the environment, thus preserving the land, and are seasonal. Organic and sustainable do not mean the same thing as you can buy an organic apple that has no pesticides but was grown in Mexico and flown across the US during the late winter months. Also, when you buy an apple locally grown in season you are not necessarily buying one that is free of pesticide residue. It is best to find both sustainable and organic if you have the choice but if not do your best and provide the healthiest option for your child, lots of fruits and vegetables Sustainable practices also protect and support the local farmer by making sure they are paid fairly and help with the distribution of their food.

Fruits and vegetables
All fruits and vegetable in their whole form without anything added are the healthiest. Having said that, some are better than others, such as green and orange leafy vegetables and colorful fruit. The more vivid the color, usually the healthier it is. You can entice your child to eat raw baby carrot sticks, celery, red pepper, cauliflower, cucumber, zucchini by having them dip it in plain yogurt or fat free ranch dressing. If you are unable to buy fresh fruit or vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy as they are frozen at the peak of their freshness. Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, Kale, and spinach come frozen and they are a great quick addition to soup.
When it comes to canned produce, be careful of added salt, sugar, fat and preservatives. When selecting canned fruit like pineapple, pear or peaches choose one that is packed in fruit juice, not in light or heavy syrup. Apples are sweet enough; buy unsweetened applesauce.

What doesn’t count as a fruit or vegetable serving?
• Fruit strips
• Gummy bear fruit snacks
• Fruit roll ups
• Only the first glass of juice counts for one serving and then the rest needs to be whole fruit and vegetables,
• Fruit flavoring
• Products that say on the front of the box that say they have fruit or vegetables in them but when you check the ingredient list, it is far down. If it is not #1 on the list, it doesn’t count.
Foods High in Antioxidants

Blueberries Beets Almonds
Blackberries Broccoli Florets Brazil Nuts
Cherries Brussels Sprouts Sesame Seeds
Grapes (red) Corn  
Oranges Eggplant  
Plums Kale  
Prunes Onions  
Raisins Red Bell Peppers  
Raspberries Spinach  


Pesticides and Produce
Eating 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is the single best thing you can do for you and your child’s health. But because of the widespread use of pesticides, both here and abroad, some produce have high levels of pesticides on them. Now that the country of origin is listed on produce, you can determine where your fruit and vegetable comes from. Be careful when choosing products outside of the US, as standards for pesticide use is not the same and some countries use chemicals that are banned in the United States.

Pesticides are harmful to you and your child’s health. Children are more vulnerable for two reasons; pound for pound, children absorb a higher concentration of pesticides than adults and because they are growing so fast, they are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of the chemicals. Scientists agree that even small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can have negative consequences on the long-term health of growing babies and children. They recommend that consumption of these chemicals be reduced.

If you cannot afford to eat only organic produce, try to avoid the twelve types of produce containing the most pesticide. The Environmental Working Group has found that by eliminating those fruits and vegetables at the top of the list and eating those on the bottom of the list, the exposure to pesticides reduces significantly. They are called the “Dirty Dozen” for the worst and “Clean 15” for the best, and they are listed below. For a wallet size printout click here:

Dirty Dozen Clean 15
Peach Onion
Apple Avocado
Bell Pepper Sweet Corn
Celery Pineapple
Nectarine Mango
Strawberries Asparagus
Cherries Sweet Peas
Kale Kiwi
Lettuce Cabbage
Grapes (Imported) Eggplant
Carrot Papaya
Pear Watermelon
  Sweet Potato

Both lists taken from the Environmental Working Group’s Web site

Try planting a garden. That way you know exactly what was used to grow your fruits and vegetables. An added benefit is that gardening teaches children where food comes from and it helps to get them excited about produce to the point where they will be more likely to eat it. Even those living in apartments can plant tomatoes and herbs on their terraces or at a nearby local neighborhood garden plot. Check out areas by you.

  Dr. Deb's Bottom Line



Scientists are now saying that the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk of exposure to pesticides, which is good news to those of us that can not afford them or have no access.


Fish tips
You have probably heard that eating fish once or twice a week is healthy for you. The main reason for this is that the fat content in fish is healthier than with meats and it is a good source of protein. Some types are also high in omega three fatty acids, which is very beneficial. You need to be careful when selecting the types of fish you eat however, as many have been found to have high levels of mercury from the polluted water where they swim.

When choosing fish it is very important to select those that are low in mercury. The most common source of mercury for Americans is tuna fish because we eat so much of it. Mercury poses a health threat to the brain and nervous system, especially in growing children and pregnant women. Children are smaller so the amount of mercury it takes to be toxic is less than that for an adult.

Keep children's consumption to less than one ounce per week of canned light tuna for every 12 pounds of body weight in order to stay below the level of mercury the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. That means that a child who weighs 36 pounds should not eat more than 3 ounces (half a standard-sized can of chunk light tuna) per week. Children should also avoid albacore or white tuna because the levels of mercury are higher.

If you would like to calculate you or your child’s average mercury dose from fish, click here.

Taken from the Natural Resources Defense Council

Enjoy these fish: Eat six servings or less per month: Eat three servings or less per month: Avoid eating:
Anchovies Bass (Striped, Black) Bluefish Mackerel (King)
Butterfish Carp Grouper* Marlin*
Catfish Cod (Alaskan)* Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf) Orange Roughy*
Clam Croaker (White Pacific) Sea Bass (Chilean)* Shark*
Crab (Domestic) Halibut (Atlantic)* Tuna (Canned Albacore) Swordfish*
Crawfish/Crayfish Halibut (Pacific) Tuna (Yellowfin)* Tilefish*
Croaker (Atlantic) Jacksmelt (Silverside)   Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)*
Flounder* Lobster    
Haddock (Atlantic)* Mahi Mahi    
Hake Monkfish*    
Herring Perch (Freshwater)    
Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub) Sablefish    
Mullet Skate*    
Oyster Snapper*    
Perch (Ocean) Tuna (Canned
chunk light)
Plaice Tuna (Skipjack)*    
Pollock Weakfish (Sea Trout)    
Salmon (Canned)**      
Salmon (Fresh)**      
Shad (American)      
Sole (Pacific)      
Squid (Calamari)      
Trout (Freshwater)      
* Fish in Trouble! These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods.
** Farmed Salmon may contain PCB's, chemicals with serious long-term health effects.

Print and copy this handy wallet guide so that you have it available when you are out shopping:

Eating Tuna Safely
Limit tuna to the following, assuming you eat no other fish. If you eat other fish high in mercury, cut down the tuna levels recommended below even further. Remember chunk light tuna has a lot less mercury than white albacore tuna.

  White Albacore Chunk Light
If you weigh: Don't eat more than one can every: Don't eat more than one can every:
20 lbs 10 weeks 3 weeks
30 lbs 6 weeks 2 weeks
40 lbs 5 weeks 11 days
50 lbs 4 weeks 9 days
60 lbs 3 weeks 7 days
70 lbs 3 weeks 6 days
80 lbs 2 weeks 6 days
90 lbs 2 weeks 5 days
100 lbs 2 weeks 5 days
110 lbs 12 days 4 days
120 lbs 11 days 4 days
130 lbs 10 days 4 days
140 lbs 10 days 3 days
150+ lbs 9 days 3 days
Source: Food and Drug Administration test results for mercury and fish, and the Environmental Protection Agency's determination of safe levels of mercury.
Table taken from NRSD


Fish low in mercury and high in omega 3 fatty acids:
Wild Salmon Sardines Herring

If you would like to teach your child about the benefits and cautions of eating fish, the Environmental Protection Agency has a Web site devoted to this issue. It is called Fish Kids, click here to check it out

Choosing Healthy Fats
Children need healthy sources of fat in their diet every day and they also need to limit the unhealthy fats. In order to do this it is important to:
• Don’t be fooled by low fat or no fat claims on processed food as most have lots of added sugar and probably the same amount of calories.
• Do purchase low or non fat dairy and meat products as these are the healthier varieties. (children under 2 need whole fat varieties of dairy)
• Limit eating out, especially at fast food and family style restaurants. Both types of restaurants add lots of unhealthy fat and salt to most meals. If you do eat out ask for food to be baked, grilled or steamed and leave the sauces.
• Choose trans fat free products. Most baked goods and processed foods are made with trans fats which show up in the list of ingredients as “partially hydrogenated oil” or as a saturated fat “hydrogenated oil”. Both are unhealthy, so find a variety that does not contain these fats.
• If you use margarine, select the trans fat free varieties. Stick forms of margarine have more trans fat than the tubs or squeeze forms.
• Buy lean cuts of red meat, and remove the visible fat before cooking
• When serving poultry, take off the skin before serving
• Bake or broil meats as frying adds unnecessary fat to your child’s diet
• Grilling is okay occasionally but do not eat the charred black parts

When purchasing healthy sources of fat and oil:
• Select the first pressed olive oils
• Most of us get plenty of corn and soy oil from other products so try using other plant based oils: olive, canola, sunflower, flax and sesame seed oils for example, for cooking and preparing foods.
• Purchase nuts and seeds to snack on as long as nut allergies are not an issue
• Serve fish twice a week and click here for the best varieties (link to fish tips above)
• For definitions of low fat and no fat click here Link to definitions of low fat

Choosing Healthy protein:
Serve red meat occasionally and make sure it is lean.
Avoid processed meat (cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon, and bologna). The best animal sources for protein are fish and poultry. Make sure to include vegetable sources daily like beans (legumes) and nuts.
• If you serve cold cuts, bacon and hot dogs choose those that are lean AND nitrite or nitrate free. Nitrites and nitrates have been linked to cancer so make sure you limit your child’s exposure to this harmful preservative.
• When buying beef don’t buy the “prime” cut as it has the most fat. Also avoid cuts that have marbling, which are streaks of white fat throughout the meat. Select “choice” or “select” cuts and go for the 95% lean hamburger meat. Remember to remove any excess fat before cooking.

Lean Cuts of Beef Extra Lean Cuts of Beef
Round steak Eye of round roast
95% lean ground beef Top round steak
Chuck shoulder roast Mock tender steak
Arm pot roast Bottom round roast
Shoulder steak  
Strip steak  
Tenderloin steak  
T-bone steak  

Click here for more information on how to select the best fish options for your family

Definitions of labels you will see on meat and poultry products
1. Natural: The USDA defines “natural” for beef or poultry as meat that contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives and are no more than minimally processed. Beyond that they have no oversight and independent companies take over. They can treat their animals any way they want and keep them in factory feed lots if they wish, so if “humanely treated” is important to you, look for an organic symbol instead. For cows, farmers can also use antibiotics early on in the life of the cow as and still call the meat “natural”.
2. Organic: A government certified inspector is required to inspect the farm where the meat product is produced when the “organic” label is used. This is not the case however with “natural” labeled products. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products can be labeled as organic if the animal is born and raised on certified organic pasture, have access to the outdoors, receive humane treatment and have never received growth hormones or antibiotics. They also can not be genetically engineered or irradiated and must be fed only certified organic grains and grasses.
3. Sustainable practices with livestock include treating the animal humanely as well as protecting and preserving the land on which they roam. It does not mean they were necessarily fed organic feed or not given hormones or antibiotics but check with the farmer to make sure. Link here for more information link to definition/sustainability
4. Corn versus Grass fed beef: The cow’s digestive system has evolved to eat grass, and lots of it. They were not designed to eat corn and as such they have a hard time digesting it and get sick, which leads to the use of antibiotics that gets passed along to the consumer through the meat. Farmers use corn because it fattens up the cow faster which means more profit for them. Grass fed cows provide healthier meat then corn fed cows as they have less of the bad fats and more of the good ones like omega 3 fatty acids. It is much harder to find and more expensive to buy beef from grass fed cows but it is worth the investment if you eat red meat sparingly as recommended. Be aware that “grass fed “cows can also come from cows fed grass while they live in restricted areas or pens. Look for “Open Pasture” or “Pasture Raised” which indicates that the cow was able to roam freely in a pasture eating a wide range of greens.
5. “Cage free” for poultry and eggs doesn’t really mean anything more than the bird was not housed in a cage. It doesn’t mean that they had access to the outdoors or were humanely treated. There is no oversight for this labeling so beware.
6. “Free range” is used on poultry and egg products and is defined by the USDA as the poultry having access to open air for 5 minutes per bird each day which really doesn’t make a difference in the long run for the bird or their health. Don’t pay extra for this label.

Share Your Favorites

Thousands of new food products are released every month and it is impossible to keep track of each and every one. Help us grow the list of healthful products by submitting your favorites with comments to Dr Deb. Dr Deb will review each for nutritional quality and place the healthy options on the list.



To turn around a picky eater:
1. Only have healthful alternatives in the house; If the junk food is not there, they cannot eat it.
2. Install consequences; For instance, dessert is not an option unless vegetables have been eaten.
3. Continue to offer healthy varieties as it may take 10-12 tries until a new food is liked.
4. Do not make it a battle, but be firm. Children will eat when hungry.
5. Offer smaller portions at first so that your child can feel like he/she accomplished something.

Remember that you are teaching them habits for life so get them involved in the selection, preparation, cooking and serving of food.


On a rainy day or weekend, spend the extra time it takes to identify the healthiest options for the food and beverages you buy regularly. Your supermarket may even have an online shopping program that will allow you to check the food labels before you shop. Once you have invested the time in choosing the best, going back to the store will be quicker and easier the next time. Also check out the list below for healthy options.



At an early age, separate food and characters for your child. Explain to them that toys and cartoons do not belong on food and that your choices are not influenced by Scooby Do, Arthur or whomever else. Kids can understand this message if you start them young enough.