Do you really know how to read, comprehend, and decipher the nutrition labels on your favorite foods? If not, that’s okay, most people don’t, in fact, most trainers don’t know either.
My clients are always asking me questions about products, if they are “good” or “bad,” whether they can eat it, and if it’ll help them lose weight. I always ask, “did you read the nutrition label?” they’ll usually send me a photo because they have NO CLUE how to decipher the random little label with what seems to be random numbers, and odd percentages.
Truth is, most “healthy-foods” are advertised using buzz words like, “sugar-free,” “organic,” “gluten-free”, “antioxidants” and my favorite, “fat-free” however, the numbers within the labels don’t back their claims. Products with misleading claims are counterproductive to our fitness goals, and derail our overall progress.
An easy rule of thumb, is to check “the top 5!” Check the Serving Size, Fat, Carbs (sugars, fibers), Protein & ingredients.
Step 1 – Serving size – Serving Size is where so many of us make our first mistake. Back in 2008 I would easily eat a box of Cheez-It Crackers. I never looked at the nutrition label, and really wasn’t concerned. I later read the label and found the actual serving size is just 27 crackers! I was consuming about 11 servings, no surprise why I couldn’t lose my belly.
Tip: Serving size should be the first thing to read since it shows you how many tablespoons, cups, or pieces, make up 1 serving. By reading the serving size you’ll know how much to eat, and the nutritional make-up of just 1 serving.
Step 2 – Fats – There are 4 categories concerning fat on a nutrition label
- Total fat: the total percentage of all fats included in your container.
- Saturated fat: comes from animal fat products, like cream, cheese, butter, whole dairy, and fatty meats.
- Trans fat: artificial fats added to vegetable oil to make it more viscous (thick).
- Cholesterol, which is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells in the body. There are 2 types of cholesterol, and your body needs both types of cholesterol to create hormones and enzymes to digest food.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – LDL is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. This is the kind that clogs arteries and over time can result in major heart issues.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL) – HDL is the kind your body wants.
Tip: Mostly everything we eat contains fat, from protein, carbs, some veggies, and of course foods considered fats like nuts, avocado, oils and dairy. My suggestion when eating pre-packaged foods is to keep the “total fats” between 0-8g, and be conscious of the amount of saturated fats, trans fats & cholesterol. Note, items with 0g of trans fat are awesome, but if the item has less that 1g of trans fat they company us legally allowed to list it as 0g. So, sometimes items that state 0g may have more
Step 3 – Carbohydrates – Nowadays everyone wants to “low carb” their life, and totally ignore the importance of carbs. Complex carbohydrates (i.e., the carbohydrates in natural, fibrous foods like fruits & vegetables) are better for you than simple carbohydrates like refined sugar
Carbs will not make you fat, your body uses carbs for fuel, and energy, so a lack thereof, the more sluggish we become. By cutting carbs we cut the supply of fuel/energy for our organs, nervous system, and fiber needed for healthy digestion. Yes, if you eat carbs excessively you will gain weight, but note, not eating enough carbs can cause your body to work inefficiently.
Tips: Just keep it simple by choosing complex carbohydrates, and by keeping added sugars to a minimum. For further advice email me at Fitslana@gmail.com
Dietary Fiber – Fiber & carbs go hand & hand, fiber is vital in creating a well-balanced diet. Consuming carbohydrates with higher amounts of fiber will keep your fuller, lowers bad cholesterol levels in your bloodstream, passively aids in weight-loss, and improve the functionality of your digestive system. Eliminating fiber can cause one to become constipated, gain weight, or suffer from heart disease.
Tip: The American Dietetic Association recommends 25g of dietary fiber for adult women and 38g for adult men per day. You’ll want to split the daily recommendation throughout a the day.
Sugars – When we consume carbohydrates our body converts those carbs into sugar, so think of your oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat toast and rice cakes as a natural source of sugars. Processed sugars are considered an empty calorie because yes, they supply you with energy but they add no nutrition value. In excess, sugar can negatively affect your health by:
- Cause weight gain & possible obesity
Tip: White sugar is extremely processed, and has been stripped of other nutrients. Look for less-processed sugars such as brown rice sweeteners, honey, agave, molasses, which contains trace minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium.
Step 4 – Protein – You all know, I LOVE MY PROTEIN. Yes, protein keeps you tight & lean, but protein is essential to your diet, and most people don’t consume enough. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein all of which help our bodies create healthy hair, nails and lean muscle mass. Protein will also regulate your hormones, creates enzymes, and helps with stabilizing your blood.
Tip: Choose lean or low-fat cuts of meat like, skinless chicken and turkey breast, lean ground turkey, round or sirloin and ground beef that is at least 90% lean. Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin.
Step 5 – Ingredients – It’s easy, if you cant pronounce it you need to bounce it. All natural, healthy snacks/food should have a simple ingredients list. You shouldn’t have to ask yourself “what’s that?” & if you do, put it back on the shelf.
Tip: Less is more! If you cant pronounce the ingredients it’s probably best to not eat it.
Notes From Lana
You’re now equipped to read, decode and decipher “healthy” nutrition labels from those that make false claims. If you become confused remember this rule of thumb, look for foods with no more than five ingredients. Lengthy lists are usually a sign that a product has unnecessary extras such as artificial preservatives. Many packaged foods hide the unhealthy ingredients that will hinder your progress, so pay attention, and do your homework. Just because it claims to be healthy, low fat, low sodium, zero sugars, and fat free it doesn’t mean that it is!