What attracts you to buying certain food when you go shopping? For most people those words on the front; “whole grains” “gluten-free” “fat-free” “low carb” “good source of fiber” are what initially draws us in, especially when we are trying to eat well; the food companies know this fact – and that is why they put these words on the front. The important thing is to not pay attention to these fancy words and to turn it over to the side and read the nutrition label on the side. Reading the nutrition label and really understanding the nutrition label are two different things, and in this post, I would like to help you make sense of the information without spending hours on an app trying to find out if it is a good choice for you.
Let’s break down the labeling step by step:
1 – Serving Size – The first thing to look at when you are reading a nutrition label is the serving size. This has to be done so that you know how many servings are in the package as well as what the serving size amount is to know how many calories and nutrients you are consuming.
2- Calories – The second item on the label to read is the calorie amount, this shows you what the energy quantity is in the food for the particular serving.
3- Fat – Fat gets a bad reputation as “making you fat” when it is actually an essential nutrient for hormone balance, contain essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 plus with 9 calories per gram it will also help keep you full for longer. Fat is also necessary to absorb vitamin A, D, E and K. The second line of the fat label shows saturated fat, which should be limited to under 20g per day, and finally, trans fats which should be completely avoided since trans fats have been shown to increase LDL (bad) and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol . Bottom line here, if it is low in saturated fat and has 0g trans fat you are good to go! (Looking at you nuts and avocados!)
4- Cholesterol and Sodium – Cholesterol can be found in some foods (i.e. eggs) but recent studies have shown that there is not a link between cholesterol found in food and cholesterol in your blood. Sodium is the amount of salt in a food. While some sodium is essential, excessive amounts can raise blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease. Also usually on packaged foods, the more sodium in it the more processed it is, so it is best to avoid high amounts of sodium the food you purchase.
5- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are a main energy source, especially used in high-intensity exercise. They are an important macronutrient for brain function, and eating complex carbohydrates will fuel you throughout the day. So often carbs get a bad reputation as well, but if you are eating low glycemic index complex carbohydrates that are low in sugar, you will be fueling your body with the correct kinds of carbs.
6 – Fiber – Dietary fiber benefits your overall gut health, and will keep you full longer than foods that do not have fiber in them. Generally, whole grain foods have higher fiber amounts than foods like white bread and pasta. Berries are also an excellent source of fiber, and you should aim to eat at least 25g of fiber a day. Be wary of foods with really high amounts of fiber, they usually contain added fiber that is not naturally occurring in the food and can cause digestion problems.
7- Sugar – The amount of sugar listed on a label, unfortunately, does not differentiate between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar, so this is where reading the ingredients will become important. When reading the ingredients look for raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar, and organic sugar cane rather than corn syrup, brown rice syrup, malt syrup and words such as fructose or glucose. Small amounts of natural sugar in a balanced diet are key. Avoid artificial sweeteners and “zero sugar” treats.
8- Protein – Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle. It is also beneficial for digestion, repair, hormone balance, and contains essential amino acids. Protein will help keep you full and has a thermogenic effect on the body which can boost your metabolism and aid in weight management.
9- Vitamins and Minerals – Vitamins are important for the immune system, hormone production, fat metabolism, fighting disease, bone health and so much more. Foods that contain between 10-20% of the daily value are considered a good source of nutrients.
Now that you know what you are reading, I am confident you will be able to make excellent decisions on your next trip to the store to buy foods that will fuel your body properly. Remember to read the nutrition facts as well as the ingredients and you are on your way to wellness! Can’t find a food label (i.e. fresh produce) Google searching is a great resource as well as my fitness pal. When using MFP look for the little green check mark next to food when available – that means it has been verified as being accurate!
Looking for a way to measure your food and get your portion sizes right? These are some of my favorite measuring tools:
As always, if you have any questions let me know in the comments! Happy food label reading!