How To Read a Nutrition Label
To the left you will see a standard nutritional label. I’ll demystify the label so that you’ll know how to read one in the future and so that you will know what those mysterious numbers mean. I have absolutely no idea what this label is for but we’ll go through everything from top to bottom.
Most nutrition labels will tell you the serving size as well as how many servings are in a container. As you’ll notice this label lists the serving size in terms of grams. Most do, which is why it is a good idea to purchase a food scale to weigh out your servings to the gram. While some labels will tell you things such as a half cup a serving. Some foods, such as breakfast cereals can be objectionable in terms of how much of the actual product will fit inside the measuring cup. I will say that measuring out your food isn’t entirely necessary. As if you eat the same amount of food each day in the same quantities and you are maintaining your weight, you can just eat less of said foods in order to lose weight. As well as more to gain weight.
Another helpful trick to help you determine if you are eating more or less of a product as you should is to look at the servings per container. If for example, you are eating whatever the label to the left describes. There are only two servings per container. If your serving appears to be half of what’s in the container then that is the serving that they are describing.
A calorie is simply a measurement of food energy. Your body needs food in order to go through it’s daily motions. I.E: eat, sleep, walk, talk, think. Take this into consideration when you are considering drastically cutting your calories in order to lose weight. You are essentially cutting off your body’s fuel to run itself. Also, keep in mind that your body only needs an extra 250-500 calories more or less than it’s maintenance level in order to gain or lose weight. I will go into more detail in other areas of the site if you wish to learn more.
The amount of calories in a food product accounts for all of the fats, carbs, and proteins that are contained in the food item itself. Normally in the calorie section they will also list how many of the calories are derived from fat. If you’ll notice at the bottom of the label they tell you how many calories are in each: a gram of protein, a gram of fat, and a gram of carbohydrates. Both protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram and fats are particularly calorie dense, coming in at 9 calories per gram. This is the reason why low fat diets work, because they cut out a ton of calories. However, we’ll go over why this is a bad idea later in the section about fats.
Basic weight loss is all about calories in vs. calories out. Also, known as taking in less calories than your body needs in order to maintain it’s weight. That is the basic formula, however in other sections of this website we’ll go over the most efficient ways to lose weight.
Next we will go over the macronutrients. Aka the fats, carbs, and proteins. These are the main things that you should look out for when looking at nutritional labels. Among other things. We’ll tell you what they do and other facts that you should consider. Many people get confused when reading a label because it will say thing such as total fat in grams. Then under that it will list other forms of fat within the product. I know that I for one was always thinking that the numbers under the total were to be added to the total for some reason. However, they are just a part of the whole. Same for the carbohydrates. Proteins are never listed with other sub-sects of proteins so there is no need for confusion there.
Fats control your hormone levels. They are also extremely dense calorie wise. They are to be used sparingly but make sure you get them in.
Fats Can Be:
- Creamy (Dairy: Butter, Milk, Ice Cream. Tree Nuts have a creamy texture)
- Oily (Fish Oils, Olive Oils. Etc.)
Low fat diets work, because fats are extremely high in calories. However they are dangerous because you need fats in order to control your hormone levels. Fats are used in recipes to add some delicious flavor in to the mix. People are drawn to foods that are high in fats and carbs because our bodies know to fill up on these foods as a survival mechanism. When earlier humans would wander through the wilderness and come across nuts and berries they would gorge on these foods in order to sustain life. That’s why trail mixes are full of nuts and berries.
This is also why the fast food industry takes advantage of us by creating scientifically altered food in a lab that is chock full of carbs and fats. It not only drives us crazy on a molecular level by acting as the most satisfying food we’ve ever tasted. But it also lacks all forms of actual nutrition leaving us feeling empty and wanting more.
- Tree, Nut & Plant Oils
- Avocado Fats
- Peanut Butter
- Trans Fats
- Vegetable shortening
- Fried Foods
- Candy Bars
- Fats Found In Fatty Cuts Of Meat
- Chicken Skin
- Vegetable shortening
- Dairy Products
- Palm and coconut oil
You may have been angry at some of the items on the list. Just remember that all things can be enjoyed in moderation. Just don’t go overboard or base your entire diet on bad foods.
While not a macronutrient, it is next on the list so we’ll go over cholesterol. Cholesterol is an artery clogging compound found in a lot of foods. However, don’t be mistaken. There is good cholesterol as well as bad cholesterol. Cholesterol does not contain calories either.
Also, not a macronutrient. Sodium is salt. The daily required intake of Sodium is 2,500 mg or 2.5 grams of salt. If you are a person who normally eats a low sodium diet and then eats a meal high in sodium. You may notice that your weight on the scale goes up a few pounds the next day. This is due to water retention. You may not know this but 16 oz. of water is actually a lb. or actual weight. This is temporary however and will go away in time. Studies have shown that a diet high in sodium will lead to high blood pressure, however there are other studies which debunk this finding. My thoughts are to try to keep sodium levels low in your diet.
You can keep your sodium levels low by avoiding processed foods, which have a ton of salt in them. Both for taste as well as preservation. Also, just check nutrition labels to see what kinds of foods have high levels of sodium. Some people regard cottage cheese as being very healthy but it is a food that is extremely high in sodium. Pickled veggies also have high levels of sodium.
Carbohydrates are used by your body for energy. They start off in their original form and then end up as sugars in the body. Carbs are regarded by many as evil as they cause spikes in insulin levels which can either be used to store fat or build muscle. For most people these insulin spikes lead to fat storage which is why carbs get such a bad reputation. However if you are just waking up after a long fast or if you have just exercised it is beneficial to your body to spike your insulin levels by consuming carbohydrates. If you are a diabetic this section may not apply to you. However, this is the reason why people tell you to “eat a healthy breakfast”. Also, why those pictures of a healthy breakfast include breakfast cereal as well as orange juice. Those are sugary treats that lead to a spike in insulin levels. Giving you some energy to start your day
Good Vs. Bad Carbs
Good carbs are carbs which have been minimally processed and therefore take a while to break down. Since they take a while to break down they don’t cause such a spike in insulin levels. Bad carbs are simple sugars that are highly refined. They are immediately taken into the blood stream and cause insulin spikes which lead to fat storage in most people. You can see where a carbohydrate falls by looking at the glycemic index which will tell you what foods will spike your insulin levels the fastest. However, keep in mind that the numbers only take into account eating the food by itself. We don’t recommend that you eat carbs by themselves but have balanced meals. Eating fats and proteins with your carbs will slow down the digestion rate of said carbs and cause a supposed bad carb to digest as slow as a good carb.
Typical examples of good carbs include: minimally processed oats, wheat bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, etc. Typical examples of bad carbs include: white rice, white bread, quick oats, sugar, candy, etc.
Carbs Can Be:
- Starchy (Potatoes)
- Sugary (Candy, Cereals, Pastries, Etc.)
- Oat-y/ Grainy/ Flour-y (Bread, Cereals, Oats, Tortillas, Etc.)
- Fibrous (Vegetables)
While all carbs can be enjoyed in your diet. I recommend that you use simple sugars sparingly. Possibly use them mostly around the time that you wake up and before and after a workout. Fibrous carbs do not spike your insulin levels and assist you with bowel movements. Fibrous carbs normally do not have many calories, are high in vitamin content and can actually assist you in burning calories. If you ever are going to eat low carb diets, then consider getting in tons of fibrous carbs so that you don’t develop hemorrhoids and can get in your micronutrients (aka vitamins.)
Proteins are the building blocks of life. Whether you are losing weight or gaining weight you want to make sure you get in your proteins. I personally recommend 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb. of lean body weight. Protein helps you build/ maintain the muscle that you already have as well as keeps your hair and other cells healthy & strong.
How To Get Your Protein In
- Lean Meats
- Protein Powders
- Egg Whites
- Protein Bars, Drinks, Etc.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. They are listed at the bottom of the list on most nutritional labels. These are important and if you get the daily recommend amount you can help all of your bodily functions run smoothly and efficiently. If you eat mostly processed foods, they are very low in vitamins/ minerals so I recommend a multivitamin. Really I recommend that you eat healthier but at the very least, take a multivitamin. Eating lots of nutrient dense foods, aka natural whole foods will help you to get in all of your micronutrients without taking a vitamin.
Recommended Daily Values
Recommend daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. They can also be based on a 2,500 calorie a day diet. If you are an active person and participate in cardio and weight lifting you shouldn’t take these numbers and/or percentages into consideration. Rather you should find your own balance of food by experimentation and go from there.
In addition to eating healthy, make sure you drink plenty of water. Water is the building block of life, literally. Drinking lots of water will help you to: lose weight, gain muscle, function properly, etc.