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The Twenty Percent Rule!
by Lucho Crisalle, R.D.

We all know not to go shopping when we are hungry; make sure to eat something before you go or even a Twinkie will look good if you are ravenous. Most people know to shop the perimeter of the store — that is where most of the unprocessed foods are located (think vegetables, meat, cheese, etc.). However, how many of you know the 20% Rule?

(Article continued below.)

Setting your sites on the unprocessed foods will help you make better choices when it comes to carbohydrates. Unfortunately, we often choose to eat some processed foods as most of us realize that they are not all that bad. So, how do we determine if a carbohydrate is deemed "fit for consumption?" The 20% Rule is your answer.

Since not all carbohydrates cause blood glucose levels to rise in the same way, it is recommended to avoid eating anything where sugar is greater than 20% of the total carbohydrates. DO NOT look at the percent daily values (% Daily Value) listed on labels (usually the column of numbers on the far right) as these only illustrate what percentage of a 2000-calorie diet a particular food represents. If you are not on a 2000-calorie meal plan, (and most of us ARE NOT), those values do not apply.

To follow the 20% Rule, all you need to do is look at the line listing the Total Carbohydrates and see how many grams are listed. This is easy to find as it usually is listed in bold black letters. You then figure out twenty percent of that number and check it against the grams of sugar. If the grams of sugar are greater than the number you just calculated, this is a food to be avoided.

As an example, let's look at an English muffin where the Total Carbohydrates are 31grams. The easiest way to calculate 20% is to first calculate 10% (very easy because all you have to do is move the decimal point one space to the left) and double that number. In our English muffin example, ten percent of 31 would be 3.1, and twenty percent would be 6.2. When we read our English muffin label and find out it has 2 grams of sugar, since 2 is less than or smaller than 6.2, the English muffin would be a great food choice. ItŐs that simple!

On the other hand, one cup of orange juice has 29 grams of Total Carbohydrates and28g of sugar. No need to even do the math, no matter how "natural" it may be, orange juice is NOT a good choice thanks to the 20% rule. Only apply this rule when deciding if a carbohydrate is a good food choice. Exempt from this rule would be milk & dairy products such as cottage cheese as the sugar they contain is lactose, which is a complex sugar; unfortunately, soy milk, unless the unsweetened type, always fails the 20% rule because of its high sugar content.

So, the next time you go grocery shopping, be prepared to read the labels and use the 20% Rule. Just wait until you go down the cereal isle, and you will really see the wonders of Cheerios!

©2005 Lucho Crisalle, R.D., Exercise & Nutrition Works, Inc.

About The Author:
Online entrepreneur Lucho Crisalle, R.D., is creator of the What Works! E-Zine. To learn more about this monthly E-Zine covering nutrition, health and lifestyle management, visit

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