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Using points and scoring systems to choose healthier foods

One Real Nutrition reader mentioned the frustrations of trying to figure out what to eat when you have Type 2 Diabetes.  There are plenty of things out there telling you what not to eat, but how do you figure out what you can eat?

Trying to eat healthier is a challenge for anyone.  Often we are told to eat better without being given any other practical tools or advice to go by.  People are left feeling alone, with the only guidance being what they see and hear in public, which is often full of misinformation and marketing ploys.

There are no exact equations to help you find the perfect food because 1) there are so many foods available to us and 2) many foods possess both good and bad qualities.  However, there are point and scoring systems that can serve as guides for people in choosing which foods to eat more or less of.

Weight Watchers uses a Points Plus food point system based on protein, fat, carb, and fiber content of foods.  Essentially, the foods that are healthier and more filling will have a lower point assignment, and those that are less filling and more calorie-dense will have a higher number.  For example, an apple has 0 points and a piece of pizza has 8-14. 

The Weight Watchers point method encourages people to choose healthier, more filling foods to help keep them satisfied throughout the day and to limit less healthy options.  Check out their calculator and an estimate of your recommended daily point values at http://www.calculator.net/weight-watchers-points-calculator.html .

NuVal is another type of point system that has been created by medical and nutrition experts to help determine the overall nutrition quality of a food using a 1-100 numeric scale.  For example, a food with a score of 95 would be considered to have high nutritional value whereas a food with a score of 5 would have very little.  

Many grocery stores have begun to adapt the NuVal scoring system in their stores, providing signs, tags, and brochures near foods to help shoppers make better choices.  Local stores that incorporate this system include Meijer and HyVee.  Learn more about NuVal at http://www.nuval.com/ .  The only drawback of this system is that it does not include specific or individualized recommendations for people on how much to consume on a daily basis.

For people with diabetes, carb counting is another way to help you choose foods and track how much is appropriate by adding up the amount of carbs you consume per meal.  Ideally, people with diabetes should meet with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator to find out the most appropriate carb content for their lifestyle, but general recommendations can also be found at the American Diabetes Association website.

The easiest advice to give for someone with diabetes is to choose as many healthy foods as possible and to limit portions at each sitting.  My definition of healthy foods includes whole grains, all fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and dairy products, and healthier sources of fat, consumed in recommended quantities. The USDA’s Choose My Plate gives us more information about better choices and reasonable portions sizes.  

You can also check out my Web video from Shaw Media discussing the Choose My Plate method of healthier eating.

Meeting with a Registered Dietitian is always a great way to assess your own personal nutrition needs and meet your specific health goals.  To locate a dietitian near you, consult the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics RD finder.

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