Promoting a healthier Alabama

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 15, 2022

VALLEY — Sheree Taylor talked about proper nutrition, diet and health at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. She’s a regional agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service and does virtual and face-to-face programs on the subject in an 11-county area in east central Alabama. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food from Jacksonville State University and a master’s in adult education from Auburn University.

Her message is simple and straight forward: if you don’t watch what you eat today it will get you in the long run.

“In time, the way you eat in your twenties and thirties will catch up to you in time,” she said. “There’s four things you can’t control — your age, your race, your gender and your family history. Everything else you can control. Those lab numbers your doctor give you, you are more in control of them than you think.”

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Taylor gave each person present for the meeting an extension service shopping bag containing a nutrition facts label. It’s a handy guide to help people in their shopping choices. It tells you the percentage daily value of how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to your daily diet. An estimated 2,000 calories day is a good measure to go by.

The smart shopper, Taylor said, reads the food labels of the food they purchase. Some items you like may not be good to eat in large portions.

“You need to know your weaknesses and to work on them,” Taylor said. “You can eat smaller portions of what you like, and watch those carbs, fats and sugary drinks.”

Taylor spotted an empty 12-ounce can of Coke on a table and asked a member of the club to read what was on the label. According to the label, that one can of Coke has 78 percent of a person’s recommended sugar intake per day. Anyone who drinks a 20-ounce Coke goes over that.

Diet drinks don’t have the sugar of regular drinks but they can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea if you drink too much of them in a day.

There’s 39 grams in that one can of Coke. It takes just 15 grams to raise one’s blood sugar.

Healthy food can be pricey.

“I’d rather pay a little more for my food now than to pay a lot with health problems on the other end,” Taylor said.

The shopping bag’s nutrition facts label encourages shoppers to ask themselves how many servings they normally eat in a day — one, two or three. The number of servings determines the number of calories you eat. It’s wise to watch out for snack foods that have more than one serving in a package.

“Eating too much saturated fat, trans fat or sodium increases your risk of heart disease, some cancers and high blood pressure,” the nutrition facts label reads. “Keep an eye on foods that are high in cholesterol since they tend to be high in saturated and trans fat.”

Something else the shopper should look for is added sugar. This can include table sugar, honey, concentrated juice and syrups added during during processing. It’s hard to stay within calorie limits when one is eating too much added sugar. Some are shocked to learn that four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon.

Ideal daily value goals are five percent or less of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugar. It’s good to have 20 percent or more of dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. For a healthy heart, keep trans fat as low as possible.

“If you are a diabetic, you need to watch those carbs and to keep sugar as low as possible,” Taylor said. “You can eat what you like but in smaller portions. It’s okay to eat until you are satisfied but not to the point you have to loosen your pants. You are winning when you control your portions. Fat, cholesterol and sodium is what can kill your body parts.”

Taylor advises everyone to develop certain habits that can lead to good health.

“Wherever I go I carry a water bottle with me,” she said. “When I drink water, it lessens the need for other kinds of drinks that could be sugary. If you have eight drinks per day, five of hem need to be water. Always be mindful of what and how much you eat. The more fiber the better. Fiber is your friend, especially if you are a diabetic. Eat brown bread rather than white bread.”

Taylor asked members of the club to think about the first syllable in the word pharmacy.

“It’s farm,” she said. “It tells us that the best things come from the land. You don’t need to have one-a-day vitamins or take B-12 shots if you are eating right. All fruits and vegetables are good for you. You need to put foods in your body that have nutritional value. Know your family history and know what illnesses your parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles had. Be all means, watch those food labels in the grocery store. Think about what you are eating and the long-term consequences it can have.”

Taylor said some members of the same family can be as different as night and day when it comes to metabolism.

“My son is six-foot-two and burns everything he eats,” she said. “It’s not that way with my daughter.”

Taylor’s 11-county service areas includes the five Cs — Calhoun, Chambers. Clay, Cleburne and Coosa — along with Lee, Macon, Randolph, Russell, Talladega and Tallapoosa. Her office is in Rockford.