In this day and age, I’m sure we’ve all heard the importance of looking at nutrition labels. You know, check the calories, check the fat- how many ingredients can you pronounce? That kind of stuff. These are all important things to keep track of, but what about the rest of the label?
I mean, there is so much that we could go into with regards to nutrition and making the “better choice” when comparing items. If you really want to get technical about it and get more detailed information, I’d recommend checking out the FDA’s official page “How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label“.
What I want to go into are just some basics that you can use when you’re in a hurry and don’t have 5 minutes to spend looking at labels before coming to a conclusion.
- Check the Servings: Ok so as previously stated, we’ve all been taught to check the calories and so consequently, the calories per serving. But unless it’s some chips where it specifies “6 chips per serving”, I mean, how many really know how much 28g equals? I mean, I have been measuring out my foods for prep for months and I still couldn’t tell you exactly how much that means. And along those lines the visual mass of 28g for something dense, such as a cheese, vs. 28g of something fluffier like chips, is completely different. Sure, it’s the same weight, but visually the amount you’re eating will appear different. Because of this, to give me a better idea of what I’m getting into, I look at the amount of servings per container. If I get a hunk of cheese and it says a serving is 28g and there are 6 servings per container, I can look at it and visually determine how much food that is. The recommended serving size is often much smaller than what you’d actually eat. Say you’re looking at something and think “wow, look how low calorie this is!” Look again at the amount of servings per container. Maybe there are 16 servings per container. Suddenly that “low calorie food” may not appear so great anymore.
- Look at the Sodium Levels: This one I cannot stress enough. We are so obsessed with checking the calories, the fat, the carbs etc that we often miss a very, very, important component: the sodium. Most foods with nutrition labels are in some way processed (when was the last time you saw a nutrition label on an apple?). Even if they don’t appear particularly “processed” you’d be surprised what has high levels of sodium. Take for example, these two cans of beans:
- Both of these are Goya Black Beans. One is labeled “Prime” and one is labeled “Prime Premium”. The biggest and most important (in my opinion) difference is the sodium levels. “Prime” contains 460mg sodium per serving whereas the “Prime Premium”, at only 125mg, has significantly less. Always, always check the sodium levels. Especially on processed foods and those heat-up dinners. Some may appear healthy until you realize that they sometimes have over 1000mg sodium per serving (and sometimes have 2 servings per container- wow!).
- Check the Sugars: I find this most relevant when looking at cereals and snack bars etc. My general rule of thumb is that first thing in the morning, I don’t want to spike my blood sugar with a breakfast cereal that has more than 10g of sugar. Similarly, if I buy granola bars or other types of snacks that I might want to snack on for a pick-me-up during the day, I really don’t want something loaded with sugars (and these babies are usually packed with them) because that’s just going to make my blood sugar level spike and then drop, making more hungry (and probably craving more sweets) later in the day.
- Check the Order of Ingredients: For me, this goes hand and hand with checking the sugars. The order of ingredients is supposed to go in order of the amount present in the food from greatest to least. If some form of sugar (i.e. sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose- any of it. There are a lot of names for sugar so check out the USDA’s page for a more complete list.) is in one of the top three ingredients, I usually put it back. Sometimes sugars can be high from more natural foods or fruits. If what I’m buying has a lot of sugars in it but I check and one of the top ingredients is, for example, dates, then I might be more inclined to give it a go.
Anyway, hope this helps with making better choices at the store- have a healthy and fit weekend everyone!