Are you one of the many people who have a love-hate relationship with grocery stores? They are wonderful, because they are stocked full of the foods that can keep our bodies alive and healthy. On the contrary, there are endless options that can damage our bodies without us realizing it. It can be frustrating when you’re excited to start practicing healthy eating habits, only to be bombarded by options on the shelves making a multitude of ambiguous claims. …all natural, gluten free, whole grain… Suddenly, you enter panic mode and grab what looks like the healthiest option or just end up filling your cart with what you are used to. No wonder many of us are confused what we should eat! Below are a few tips to help you develop confidence in your ability to make smart choices at the grocery store by understanding how to read labels.
Luckily, the government has required all products to clearly place the nutrition facts and ingredients list for products on the packaging. The downside is that most people have not been educated properly on how to read these labels and understand how it applies to them. Let’s start by breaking it down:
- Serving Size:
Products are required to list the suggested serving size in relation to the nutrition content. It is important to realize that most of the serving sizes listed do not accurately represent the amount that is commonly consumed. For example, most ice creams are listed at ½ cup serving size, but if you have ever measured out ½ cup of ice cream you will quickly realize you fill your bowl with much more than that. For clarity, food companies are now supposed to list the average consumed amount (although it has been a slow moving process). Spend a day following all the serving sizes listed to see how you are measuring up and adjust according to your nutrient needs.
Calories = energy! Calories are necessary to keep you moving and smiling, but remember that not every calorie is created equal. One hundred calories of broccoli is much different than 100 calories of pizza. When paying attention to the calorie number, you still want to be mindful that the quality of those calories will make a big difference in how you feel. Just because a food claims to be low calorie, does not always mean that those calories will promote a healthy body.
- Nutrients to Limit:
Similar to calories, fat is not bad. Fat is vital for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K), myelination of motor neurons, and so much more. Your body NEEDS fat!… but the right type of fat. You don’t want to go overboard on fat because it is calorically dense, but sure that consuming healthy plant sources of fat in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats throughout the day. Limit your intake of saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily caloric goal (Less than 15 grams if you are a female and 20 grams if you are a male). Trans fats need to be avoided so keep that number zero. Be mindful of keeping the cholesterol number low and aim to get less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
- The Good Stuff:
There is a lot of confusion about carbs and how they are the bad guy. We’re here to clear up any misunderstandings: carbohydrates are necessary for your brain and body to function properly. However, these need to be the proper sources of carbs. When you are wondering what form of carbohydrates you should consume think whole and natural sources: oats, quinoa, brown rice, couscous, fruits, and veggies. These options are nutrient dense and will fuel your body for good when consumed in the right amount. Please, please, please avoid refined and processed flours, sugar, cereals, packaged oatmeals, white rice, white pasta, baked goods, etc. Eating too much of these foods can alter the ways our body process carbs, which may result in insulin resistance and weight gain.
- Daily Values 101:
The percentages listed on the label are generally ignored or misused. They serve a great purpose: to help you recognize how that food fits in to your daily goal for specific macro- and micronutrients. The difficult part is that it’s based off a 2,000 calorie goal and needs to be adjusted for every person. In general, the higher the number of the micronutrients (calcium, iron, vitamins, etc.) the better. The macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) need to be more tailored to the individual. If you are interested in knowing what your daily values should be, come in for a free consultation with a personal trainer at Precision Personal Training who will scientifically determine that for you.
While the process of reading a nutrition label can be daunting at first, it is a quickly learned and invaluable skill to have for your health. Next, we will be taking it one step further and covering the topic of reading ingredient lists to know what you should be looking out for. Reading the facts is much more than counting calories, it’s also recognizing exactly what you are putting in your body. Whether your goal is weight loss, sports training, or general health, understanding how to read the nutrition label will make all the difference in your success.