Nutrition labels can be a little intimidating. Most people feel fairly comfortable, enough to read the calories, sugars and maybe recognize a few ingredients. But what about the rest of it? Ever wonder what you’re missing? We’re gonna give you a crash course on how to speed through these labels like a mother on a mission (or father for that matter).
FOCUS #1 : Serving Size
We all have a handle on what we consider our personal serving size to be and most often, it’s wildly out of line (typically not to our benefit)with what the food manufacturer decides is it’s actual serving. So if you’re not focusing on the serving size, but instead on the other nutrition facts outlined beneath it, you might be misled.
Every manufacturer decides what their serving size will be so its typical to see a small serving size so they can drop the calories and macro nutrients down, making the product look healthier.
TRY THIS AT HOME: Since most cereals list their serving size between .75-1.5 cups, take out a measuring cup, fill it with your choice of cereal and pour that into the bowl to see how much you’d actually be getting if you only had one serving. HELLO!
FOCUS #2: Daily Value
If you haven’t seen enough of it over the years, the nutrition labels indicate the daily value (the percentage you should be taking in of any given nutrient listed) based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. So if everyone followed the nutrition labels for a 2,000 calorie/day diet, you’d see nearly anyone, living at a healthy weight, under 5’4″ starting to gain weight. A 2,000 calorie diet is, generally speaking, a grown man’s typical caloric intake (but certainly not every grown man-we come in all shapes and sizes, after all).
So it’s critical to pay attention to how many calories you specifically should be taking in at any given day based on your health goals for maintaining weight, losing or gaining it. This website helps to narrow down how many calories you should be taking in.
*Don’t forget, QUALITY of calories is incredibly important for a healthy body. The right amount of calories consumed only through Oreos, for instance, isn’t going to do anything but make you ill.
FOCUS #3: The Nutrients
Calories are the obvious critters, and knowing the amount of calories you need daily, is half the battle.
Below that is Fat, loud and proud, and also bolded. This is to indicate the TOTAL FAT, which includes saturated and trans fat (these are the “bad fats”). Heads up, unsaturated fats, or healthy fats, like mono and poly-unsaturated aren’t listed here so you have to subtract out to find them.
Don’t be scared of fat either, as long as it’s a healthy fat, this is a source of calories that is incredibly valuable to your body. Your brain especially thrives on healthy fats and can function more properly when it has enough. It’s also a huge helper for your metabolism so eat that egg yolk!
Underneath Fat is the Cholesterol and sodium, both of which you need a daily dose of. For sodium, it’s always best to choose a healthy source like pink himilayan salt or celtic sea salt. These salts help to detoxify the body by balancing systemic pH and improving hydration with trace minerals. It also helps to reduce muscle cramping and balancing blood sugar. White table salt though? Ditch it.
Carbohydrates are also bolded because they’re talking about total carbs here. This includes fiber, sugar and starch. If you’re looking for your net carbs, you subtract the total carbs – dietary fiber to = net carbs.
This matters to those watching their insulin levels. Since increased blood sugars raise insulin, and sugar increases that, the added fiber in the nutrition label can’t be digested so it’s said to have little or no impact on blood sugar, hence removing it from the total carb count.
Proteins are the powerhouse at the bottom and they’re pretty straight forward. The general rule of thumb is that you’ll want to take in about .36 grams per pound of your body weight. Obviously, if you have specific health or fitness goals, this generic number may not suit you, but generally speaking, it’s a great place to start.
*MATH EXAMPLE 🙂
Imaginary Man: 176 pounds x .36 grams = should eat 175.64 grams of protein per day.
FOCUS #5: VITAMINS
Vitamins and minerals listed below the macronutrients are always important. The aim is to get 100% or more daily, but the most effective delivery system for this category is real food, grown from the ground.
FOCUS #6: The INGREDIENTS!
Last but never ever least. This is a section people tend to ignore. While, yes, it’s a great start to eat the right blend of calories (we get it, it takes a little discipline to start paying attention to these labels), the ingredients are responsible for allowing your body to thrive or become sick over time.
Ignore the healthy jargon the front of the box protests in order to sell you their product, and find out for yourself. Real food is made from real ingredients so they should all really be things you recognize and can pronounce. Actual food is not a cocktail of preservatives and chemicals, conditioners and 12 different names for sugar. The reason for the addition of these items is mainly to preserve the food, giving it a longer shelf life and replacing taste for the “low-sugar” or “low-fat” claim on the front of the label.
These additives are included to improve the sales of the product, not to improve your health or how you feel. Call their bluff by going straight to the ingredients list, because you’re powerful when you’re armed with the truth.
While nutrition labels are a huge part of our grocery life, it should be our effort to wean more and more away from boxed foods and gravitate towards the “outside of the aisles” where the REAL food lives. We know, some things you might not ever give up, us too…but for the most part, the majority of your cart should look like you’ve been spending most of your time in the produce, meat or dairy sections. Also the diaper section, if you have young ones.
Eating this way is the highway to health since the “living foods” (produce) are so jam packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber that drive raw energy, you’ll be hard pressed to feel better with any boxed food, no matter how healthy the packaging looks.
You’re armed with more knowledge, now go out and defeat the day! Stay awesome wellness warriors!