Food Labels can be a bit overwhelming…amIright??
What do all those numbers mean?
Do I really have to read it all?
Why does ____ matter?
What should I even be looking for?
I’m gonna make it a little bit easier for you and outline in simple terms what to look for if you are watching what you are putting in your body.
Let’s start with the 5 things you should be looking at:
1. Calories and Serving Size
- It’s easiest to start at the top of a food label where it states the serving size, how many servings per container, and calories per serving. This is where people get confused. For instance, if a box of cereal says that a serving is 1 cup and it contains 150 calories, and you pour yourself 1 1/2 cups of cereal, you are getting more than what the food label says for that serving.
- Make sure to see how much you are really eating, and then you can really know how many calories you are serving yourself.
- The serving size is also important to help our distortion of portion sizes. Here in the US, everything is oversized! If you order a pasta entree at a typical restaurant, the serving size can be up to 6-9 servings! That’s crazy! By seeing how much a serving size is for different foods helps us better understand how much we should really be eating.
- First off, yes we DO NEED fat in our diets. The good, healthy, unsaturated fats though! (oils, nuts, seeds, and fish contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which our bodies cannot produce on their own) These help keep your cholesterol in check.
- Secondly, the fats we should reduce are the trans fats, saturated fats, and overall total fat. Therefore, when looking at a food label, make sure there is always ZERO trans fats and try to have as LITTLE saturated fats as possible. Unsaturated fats are healthier, so therefore if a label says “Total Fat: 3g” and there are 0g saturated fat and 0g trans fats, you know that the fat you ARE getting is an unsaturated, healthier kind (like in freshly ground peanut butter, or a fruit and nut bar like “Kind” bars). Unsaturated fats can help raise your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol. Therefore, try to keep the “bad” fats (saturated and trans) to as few as possible. Too much saturated and trans fats can lead to unwanted issues like high cholesterol, heart disease, heart attacks, and more.
- What is fiber? Why do we need fiber? What foods contain fiber? These are a lot of questions but can be answered simply:
- Fiber is the structural component of a lot of cell walls constituting fruits and vegetables.
- Fiber helps “bulk” up your stool, helping to ease elimination and keep you from being constipated.
- Foods that contain fiber are fresh fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, whole grains, beans, quinoa, rice, etc.
- According to the Institute of Medicine, “the recommended dietary fiber intake for adults aged 50 and younger is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, and for men and women older than 50, an intake of 30 and 21 grams, respectively. But Americans are falling seriously short of the recommended goal, with an average intake of about 15 grams per day.” Therefore, we as Americans need to make sure we are GETTING ENOUGH FIBER!
- So when you are checking food labels, fiber is something to look at to see if you are getting enough throughout the day.
4. Things you want less of: Sugar & Sodium
- A typical sugar packet contains 2-4 grams of sugar. Therefore, when looking at a food label for a soda like Coca-Cola that contains 39 grams of sugar, thats basically a can of water with added chemicals and about 10-15 straight PACKETS OF SUGAR!!!! Would you add that much sugar normally? Probably not. Therefore, it is so so important to look out for added sugars in our diet. Added sugars are one of the leading causes of excess calories in the diet, leading to obesity, diabetes, and a whole host of other issues.
- Our sweet tooth increased 39% between 1950 and 2000, according to the USDA. The average American now consumes about three pounds of sugar each week. The World Health organization drafted changes to the recommendations for sugar intake proposing that an adult with a normal BMI should eat 25 grams of sugar OR LESS every day. That’s way less than just one soda! Think it’s possible? Read more from the article here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/06/health/who-sugar-guidelines/
- Lowering your sugar intake should be easy, but it can be tricky when sugar is added to so many different foods these days (bread? crackers? yogurt?) that don’t even really need it. There are so many different hidden names of sugars too (HFCS, maltose, dextrose, honey, fructose, etc….) Be sure to read the food labels to see how much sugar you are really consuming.
- A high amount of sodium in the diet can lead to unwanted high blood pressure (aka hypertension) which makes your sweet little heart pump way faster and have to work harder (and could lead to heart disease or strokes! agh!).
- Like sugar, sodium is found in many different foods that you wouldn’t expect (bread, sauces, seasonings, soups) so it’s important to check the food label to keep your sodium in line.
- How much sodium is recommended per day? 2400 mg or less.
5. Ingredient list
- The ingredient list is pretty easy to tackle. See a huge list of ingredients that you can barely pronounce or don’t even know what they are? Then this food probably isn’t the healthiest and was most likely made in a lab. Fresh foods like apples, asparagus, sweet potatoes don’t even have food labels. If they did, their ingredient list would have one ingredient on it: the actual fruit or veggie. Think SIMPLE. If the ingredient list is a mile long, it probably isn’t the best thing for you. Stick to ingredients that you can pronounce, and avoid foods that have sugar or salt as the first few ingredients.
- See the difference?
umm WTF is half of this stuff?!?!Simple ingredient list:
Rolled oats. JUST ROLLED OATS. You actually know what you are eating!
~* Honorable mentions to look out for:
- Protein: aim to get enough protein every day in your diet. To figure out how many grams of protein you need, multiply 0.8 grams x (your weight in lb/ 2.2 ). A “good source of protein” in a food item means it contains 10-19% of the Daily Value.
- Vitamins and Minerals: obviously these are needed in our diet, but if you are wanting to get adequate amounts of certain vitamins/minerals, look up good sources of each and try to incorporate more of those foods in your diet. As long as you eat a large variety of foods in your diet, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about this part of the nutrition facts label.
- Total carbohydrates: This is more important for those with Diabetes that have to control their carb intake.
And we can’t forget….
Breakfast: I woke up and treated myself to heaven in a bottle, aka “Nutty Joe” (fresh pressed vegan espresso vanilla almond milk…..umm yeah <3 ) from Journey Juice here in Athens:
I could drink this everyday for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.
I also ate one of these DANK gluten free whole grain muffins from Dekalb Farmer’s Market near Atlanta. They are so rich, buttery, and filling. Perfect since I was in a hurry to get to the library to study.
Lunch: had a small pre-workout lunch of pecan cranberry chicken salad from Earthfare, cucumber slices, and a fresh plum (haven’t had one in years!) and it hit the spot. Of course I had water with it too ;).
I did BLAST again at 4:00 and met with the owner afterwards since I’m starting to work there next week (!! 🙂 ) It was a killer workout as always so I needed some fuel after (carbs and protein!) so I had 3 light string cheese sticks and a brown rice tortilla (and lots of water…).
I was then craving some of sugar (as always) so I grabbed one of my Annie’s bunny fruit snacks (I swear I’m
5 23) that I keep in the freezer. They are only 70 calories per pack and taste sooo good cold!! Definitely give it a try.
Smoked salmon, avocado, and cream cheese. Healthy fats!
I was lacking a little on the veggies today, but I will make up for it tomorrow 🙂
Lastly, this is how Ziggy fell asleep tonight…umm yeah she’s freaking ADORBZ. She then proceeded to roll over and almost fall off the couch…oh little one. 🙂
Have a great night y’all!