Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, control sugar or carbs, up your protein intake, or just simply eat a bit healthier – you need to know how to make sense of a nutrition label.
Being able to correctly decode food labels is a huge advantage when it comes to healthy eating. While we all know that we should be reading food labels, we may not know what exactly to look for in the label itself.
So the question is then – how can you look at a food label and quickly see whether or not you want to throw that product in your cart?
Last night in my ACE personal training class, we covered a section on a nutrition. In fact, we had a registered dietician come in to share her expertise on food labels, portion sizes, and healthy eating.
Let me just start by showing you a very basic food label.
So, how can you make sense of this food label?
1.) Serving Size
What is a serving size? A serving size is whatever the company has deemed to be one serving. It’s not what you consider a serving. You may say you’re having a bowl of oatmeal, but what is a bowl exactly? 1 cup? 2 cups? Go with the serving size given on the nutrition label to eliminate confusion.
Additionally, keep in mind that there are often multiple servings in one small container. For example, a bottle of Gatorade seems like 1 serving, right? But it’s actually 2.5! Watch out for sneaky portions like this.
Weight Loss Tip: It’s helpful to have a set of measuring cups or a small kitchen scale to ensure that you are getting the correct portion sizes. We often grossly overestimate the serving sizes of certain foods which results in more calories than necessary.
To determine whether the calorie content is high or low, keep in mind that the average adult female should consume roughly 1500-2000 calories per day and the average adult male should consume 1800-2000 calories per day. The numbers vary widely based on activity level, muscle, height, weight, etc., but this is just a general range.
It may be helpful to keep a food journal in order to track calories and see patterns in your eating habits. A few 200 calorie snacks may not seem like a lot individually, but over time they add up.
Vegetables are great low calorie snacks and meal additions. Pile your plate high with green veggies first and then add smaller servings of the higher calories foods.
Weight Loss Tip: In order to lose 1 pound per week, you should decrease your calorie intake by 500 calories per day through smaller portion sizes or a increased calorie burn.
By now, you may have heard that not all fat is bad! We’re passed the low fat diet fad and instead we need to focus on consuming good fats while minimizing the bad ones!
That begs the question – what are the good fats and what fats should I avoid?
Good fats are unsaturated. They are present in olive oil, canola oil, nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocado, fish, lean meats, etc. They are essential to good health!
The bad fats are those that are trans fats, hydrogenated fats, and saturated fats. They are found in butter, cream, red meat, etc.
Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid the bad fats completely. However, making simple switches and limiting intake of bad fats in optimal.
Weight Loss Tip: Decrease your intake of bad fats by ordered a grilled chicken sandwich (minus mayo + veggies) instead of a cheeseburger or a fried chicken sandwich. It’s a simple switch that goes a long way!
Weight Loss Tip: What about salad dressing? Avoid creamy dresses that are often laden with the bad fats (Caesar, ranch) and instead choose olive oil based dressings. Or simply use a mixture of extra virgin olive oil + balsamic. That’s a great option!
Additionally, watch out for cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that we limit our dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day. Thus, the best products to look for have 20 mg of cholesterol or less per serving.
Sodium is a great preservative, which means that it’s a popular addition to packaged foods. However, sodium can be super hard on your heart – especially as we get older.
The American Heart Association recommends getting 1500-2400 mg of sodium or less per day!
Tip: Watch out for canned soups, vegetables, and beans! They’re packed with sodium to elongate their shelf live. Instead, choose frozen options. Since they’re frozen to be preserved, their sodium content is much lower.
And we’re to the carbs. Everyone is worried about carbs. But the fact is that carbs are the primary source of fuel for our muscles! We just need to chose the carbs that are good for us – brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas, etc.
The RD said something that really stuck with me – “The whiter the bread, the faster you’re dead.” White bread is overly processed and stripped of vital nutrients – skip the white and choose whole wheat.
Additionally when looking at carbs, make certain to get enough fiber! Fiber is a great carb that helps fight cancer, heart disease, and more!
We should aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber per day!
Finally, you should also steer clear of foods that have a lot of sugar. In fact, you should aim for foods that have 4 grams of sugar or less per serving.
While carbohydrates provide fuel for the muscles, protein aids in repair. It also helps you to feel full and provides essential amino acids.
Protein can be found in several plant-based and animal-based sources – yogurt, lean meats, dairy products, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, etc..
The average 150lb. female needs 55-68 grams of protein per day, while the average 190lb. male needs 69-86 grams per day.
Remember this is simply a guide for the average person. Dietary recommendations change based on age, gender, family history, goals, food sensitivities, etc..
How often do you read food labels?