Are You Really Reading the Label? (PART 1)
How do you decide what foods to purchase when you’re grocery shopping? Do you turn the box or package to check out the Nutrition Facts label? How about the ingredients listed next to this label?
Understanding nutrition is an important part of choosing wisely and it’s imperative to you and your family’s health to understand the basics of nutrition.
Being able to read the Nutrition Facts label is a big part of deciphering the “good” from the “not so good”.
So let’s do a breakdown to give you the best tips to understanding nutrition and make the healthy decisions based upon the information given to you. This is where knowledge becomes true power.
Don’t be fooled by the nutritional jargon
There are five main pieces to understanding the information given to you on a packaged food – and none of this information is typically shared on the front of the packaging!
You have to look deeper (aka. the Nutrition Label) – it’s the nature of the world we live in.
1. The serving size (and Servings Per Container).
2. Calories (taking note this is per serving).
3. The nutrients to emphasize.
4. The nutrients to limit.
5. The ingredients (listed just outside of the Nutrition Facts box).
Serving size (and servings per container)
Often skipped over by consumers, this information is listed at the top of the label for a reason. A package of food could contain just 1 serving inside or 30 servings! The only way to know is to take note of this info as you scan the label. This can be a game-changer in deciding whether to purchase a certain item.
Let’s think about a typical bag of chips:
A serving size might be 10 chips and there might be 14 servings per container (inside the bag). If you know you tend to eat more than 10 chips at once, you’re going to be consuming more than 1 serving. If that’s the case, you need to be aware of how that impacts you nutritionally.
Let’s move onto the next important piece of this label, shall we?
First, a quick lesson on calories: a calorie is simply a measurement of how much heat a food will produce in the human body.
When you think about consuming calories, I want you to think about the consumption of energy. And furthermore, I want your calories to come from good energy (I’ll get back to this later).
The calories listed in the Nutrition Facts label are the calories per serving. If we look at that same example above:
You may find that a serving of 10 chips has 140 calories. So, should you consume more than 10 chips, you’ll be consuming more than 140 calories. If there are 14 servings and you find it hard to resist eating the entire bag in a sitting, think about it this way: you will be consuming 1,960 calories worth of chips (140 calories X 14 servings).
Nutrients to emphasize
In this next section we’ll go through the nutrients you should look at to make sure they’re “high enough” in your food as these are the nutrients you want more of in your diet. For optimal health, it’s important to get a variety of nutrients.
You will need both macro and micronutrients (I’ll explain more on those in a moment), but it’s also important to know which nutrients you want to emphasize in your diet so you can look for these on the label and be sure you’re getting enough of them.
Macro and micro
Before we talk about what nutrients to look for on the label itself, let’s talk about macro and micronutrients. Think of a “macronutrient” as a bigger, visible nutrient. The macronutrients are ones you’re most likely already familiar with: fats, carbohydrates and protein. These nutrients each provide calories.
For example, 1g of protein has 4 calories. The micronutrients are a smaller scale nutrient, but just as important for your body’s health! Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.
Currently, the only ones required on the Nutrition Facts label are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron and Calcium.
See Part 2 of my article, where I share more tips to cheat the packaging info and get into the nitty-gritty of sodium, carbohydrates, cholesterol and sugar intake.
Keep it healthy!!