Deciphering Food Labels
So you know to be conscious of what you eat and you do your best to check food labels before stuffing a sleeve of Oreos down your gullet, or polishing off a box of cinnamon toast crunch on a Saturday morning, but how do we know what we’re looking at?
In order for us to gain an understanding of what’s going into our bodies and how it will be used and digested, it is beneficial and downright crucial that we understand food labels. It is said that “a calorie is a calorie”, but we know that is not the case. All calories are not created equal. Let me explain.
So if a calorie is a calorie, then it would have the same affect on the body to eat a handful of gummy bears(yum) or a baked potato, correct? Both are carbohydrates, but it doesn’t sound so similar when we compare it like that now does it? We know the gummy bears have a tremendous amount of sugar than does a boring potato. To stress my point, 1 serving of gummy bears (17 pieces) has 18 grams of sugar, while 1 medium potato has 1 gram of sugar.
Lets dive into a food label example and see what it all means. In this example we’ll be looking at creamy Jif peanut butter. Up first we’ll see a serving size. In this case it’s 2 tablespoons. So be cognizant, when you’re eating spoonfuls of peanut butter while watching The Notebook, of how many calories are actually being ingested.
Next, is 16 grams of fat per serving. Just like carbohydrates, fat is further
divided by type. We’ll track that by dropping to the line
right below Total Fat to check whether it’s coming from
unsaturated (good), saturated (good sometimes), or
trans fat (not good). Here we see 3 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams from trans fat,
which means 13 grams are allotted to unsaturated fat.
The next line down, we’ll notice there is no cholesterol,
which is fine.
Sodium is up next, with only 150mg. Notice cholesterol
and sodium are measured in milligrams as they are in far
less quantities than the macronutrients: fats,
carbohydrates, and proteins. Daily recommended sodium
intake according to the American Heart Association is no
more than 1,500mg a day, which equates to about ¾
teaspoon of salt.
Following Sodium, we see Potassium, which also contains
no amount for this product.
Now for the infamous carbohydrate. This will tie into the example above about the gummy bears vs. potato in carbohydrate and sugar content. We’ll notice there is 7 grams of carbohydrates in this serving of peanut butter. It is further broken down by fiber and sugar weight. In this serving size there is 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar. An important note here a and with any fiber content is that our bodies do not receive usable energy from fiber. It is necessary for daily digestion purposes, but our bodies cannot digest fiber and use it for energy. So 2 grams are from fiber, 3 grams are from simple sugars, and we can infer that the remaining 2 grams are in the form of complex carbohydrates. Looking at peanut butter, it would not be an ideal pre or post workout meal choice for 3 reasons. One, not enough sustainable energy for the workout (those remaining 2 grams of complex carbs), and two, fat is never the primary fuel source used for activity (except for marathon running) as it takes too long for our bodies to break down to use for immediate energy, and three, because to stay in a fat burning mode we want to eliminate fat from a meal immediately following a workout.
Lastly in the macronutrient part we’ll see the protein content in a given food. In this example it’s 8 grams. For someone to get a decent amount of protein from peanut butter, they would need to consume 6 tablespoons equaling 24 grams of protein. Not ideal as it would probably be close to a person’s daily allowance for fat in just one meal.
Under the main macronutrient breakdown of food is the vitamin and mineral content. It’s a nice bonus to see what vitamins and minerals you’re getting in your foods.
Last but not least, is the ingredients list. What’s so important about the ingredients? You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t even know half the stuff food companies use anyway.” If that’s the case you may want to look around and asses what foods are in the house and how “natural” those food choices really are. The point I’d like to leave with you is the importance of order in the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity. With that being said you can really tell the health of a food by the first 3 ingredients.
I hope this article has helped depict the breakdown of a nutrition label and you are able to decipher what is “healthy” and what is really going into the body.
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