Do You Know What You’re Eating
When you decide to change your eating habits, deciphering food labels becomes a must use tool, but if you have never paid much attention to it before it can be a little confusing. In this article I will break down the nutrition label facts and explain why it’s important to read food labels and how to use the information to reach your goals easier.
The labels will change sometimes and in the upcoming years (Between Jan 1st 2020 and Jan 1st 2021) depending on the size of the food company. The FDA will be changing the labels, the new designs will incorporate larger print for the serving size, calorie and servings per container. It will also tell you how much total sugar and added sugar is in the product.
What Is A Serving Size
A set amount of food such as a cup or ounce, portion control is very important when managing your weight. Checking the serving size will tell you how the calories and nutrients are broken down for that item. That way you know exactly what size portion you should eat of that particular food depending on your calorie needs.
It’s also great for product comparisons, just be sure to read the label carefully. One package or box is not always the same, for example one type of cereal may have a serving size of 3/4 cup but another will have one cup as a serving size.
What Are Calories
Depending on your goals, sex, age and activity level your daily calorie needs won’t be the same as everyone else. If you’re not sure how many calories you need, do this quick formula to receive an accurate caloric total. Harris Benedict Formula
The FDA general guideline
- 40 calories per serving is low
- 100 calories per serving is moderate
- 400 calories per serving is high
No matter if your goal is cutting or bulking, counting calories is very important. When you read the nutrition labels at the grocery store compare the calorie count to the serving size then look at other products and determine the best fit for your diet.
What Is Fat
Healthy fatty foods are essential to a healthy diet providing energy and they help keep you satisfied throughout the day. Fats provide 9 calories per gram, this makes it very calorie dense meaning you should moderate how much you eat of it. The recommendation is between 20% and 35% of your calories come from fat.
Not all fats are the same. Unsaturated fats are the best when it comes to heart health, the nutrition label will break down the individual types of fat.
Mono-unsaturated fats (MUFA’s)
Fatty acids that have one double bond and are usually liquid at room temperature but will begin to thicken when chilled. Plant sources rich in MUFAs are vegetable oils such as canola, olive and sunflower as well as nuts. To gain the benefit of healthy fats you want to consume foods with high percentages of mono-unsaturated fats.
Examples of (MUFAs)
- Macadamia nuts 80%
- Olive oil 77%
- Hazelnuts 77%
- Avocados 71%
- almonds 70%
- Canola oil 59%
- Pecans 59%
- Peanuts 46%
- Peanut oil 46%
Poly-unsaturated fats (PUFA’s)
Fats that can have two or more bonds and are also usually liquid at room temperature. Most sources derive from vegetable oils and some nuts and seeds, including avocados. PUFAs provide essential fats for our body.
Examples of PUFAs
- Albacore Tuna
- Sunflower Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Soybean Oil
- Corn Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Flax Seed Oil
- Safflower Oil
What Are Saturated Fats
These are fats that have double bands, this means that they stay solid at room temperature, this is the reason they can cause plaque to build up in your arteries. High amounts of saturated fats come from animal products such as meats and dairy, also oils like coconut and palm oils.
You should try to stay under 10% of your total calories coming from these types of fats. 14 grams or less should be ingested on any given day.
Alternatives to red meat and pork are chicken and turkey without the skin, if you want to cut saturated fat even more, eat fish, nuts, beans and soy products.
Not only can eating dairy products increase your saturated fat intake, you also have to be aware of how your food is being prepared and the types of drinks you are having. Different types of coffee can have creamers or milk in them even the butter on your toast. All of these sources add up quickly.
What Are Trans fat
Trans fat also called unsaturated fat are a type of fat that occur in small amounts in nature but became widely produced industrially from vegetable fats in the 1950’s for use in margarine, snack food, packaged baked goods and for fast food.
A lot of times you will see products stating they have zero grams trans fat, legally companies are allowed to say this as long as the product doesn’t have more than 0.5 grams of trans fat. To get around this read the nutrition label to see if any ingredient listed has hydrogenated or any form of the word such as hydrogenation.If you see these words that particular product has trans fat and I wouldn’t recommend buying.
You should avoid trans fat at all costs and all it takes is common sense. The largest % of foods that have the highest amount of trans fat are;
- Fast foods
- Spreads ( margarine, non-natural peanut butter )
- Snack foods
- Fried foods
- Non dairy creamers
- Vegetable shortenings
- Processed foods (pie crusts, pizza dough, cookie dough)
- Pastries (donuts, pies)
See what I mean by common sense, everyone knows that all the foods listed above DO NOT belong in any successful diet.
How To Track Cholesterol
If your worried about cholesterol intake than you will want to look at this section of the nutritional label.
The recommended daily amount of cholesterol is 300 mg per day. Dietary Cholesterol is found in foods that come from animals, this includes meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Plant foods such as grains, vegetables, fruits and oils do not contain dietary cholesterol.
What Is Sodium
Sodium is an electrolyte that is imperative for muscles and nerves to function properly. Over consumed sodium can cause adverse negative effects.
Excess sodium increases blood pressure because it holds fluid in the body and that creates an added burden on the heart. Too much sodium will increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease. 1 in 3 Americans will develop high blood pressure in their lifetime.
To avoid this, limit the amount of table salt you use and always try to eat whole foods instead of processed foods. Pre processed foods have higher amounts of sodium in them to keep them fresh longer due to sodium being an excellent preservative.
When it comes to sodium, most experts recommend that you should keep your sodium intake under 2,300 mg per day.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients used to make up our diet, it is our main source of energy providing 4 calories per gram. The largest percentage of your diet will come from carbohydrates. Your age and activity level will determine how much you need daily.
You should include 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories you ingest.
Dietary fiber is indigestible carbohydrates that are intact from plants, simply put this is the fiber naturally occurring in plants.
Knowing how much sugar you’re eating is important when it comes to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. This is why you should always check the amount of sugar in the foods you buy and make sure to choose foods that contain less sugar.
Not all sugar rich foods are the same, on the new labels you will see a column for total sugar and one for added sugars. Since added sugars are mostly empty calories that increase your daily caloric intake and provide very little nutritional value, you want to stay away from them.
Protein is one of the 3 major macronutrients that provides functional and structural components to all animal cells. 9 essential amino acids make up the protein structure, essential means these particular amino acids can not be synthesized by humans and can only be obtained through proper diet.
The quality of protein is determined by two factors, the first is bio availability. Which is the percentage of protein that will be allowed into your body after it’s digested.
The second is its amino acid profile relative to the body’s requirements for growth, maintenance and repair.
When you check the protein amount on the label also check the fat grams to make sure the number isn’t to high. Protein rich foods are also high in saturated fat and some dairy choices that are high in protein can have trans fat.
Vitamins and minerals
On nutrition labels, vitamin content is provided as the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving.
Not all vitamins are required to be on nutrition labels so you don’t end up with a well-rounded view in the end.
With this category I could get very technical about fortification and nutrient dense but all you really need to pay attention to are the numbers under the thick black bar. This will give you important information about the healthy micronutrients in your food . If you choose foods that are more nutritious it will be easier to for you to build a strong, fit body. The perfect scenario is would be people who choose foods that are low in calories and high in nutrition.
Percent daily value
This can be deceiving because the daily percentage is based on a 2000 calorie a day diet, the vast majority of the population is not on a 2000 calorie daily diet. However you can use it as a guideline to get an understanding if this food product is high in nutrients or not.
If your seeing a lot of low percentages next to the important categories than you know it’s a poor food choice.
Refined grains, in contrast to whole grains, refers to grain products consisting of grains or grain flours that have been significantly modified from their natural composition. The process of modifying it generally involves the mechanical removal of bran and germ, either through grinding or selective sifting.
Many refined grains have a low fiber count but have high amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron
Grains made from the entire grain seed including the bran, germ and endosperm. Many are also sources of dietary fiber
You can;t reach your fitness goals unless you have the right nutrition plan in place and you can’t know that unless you know what you’re putting in your body.
Take the time to learn what you’re eating and how to measure it out, I know it’s intimidating but it will become second nature in know time.