here’s a spooky fact: food label-lurkers weigh an average of 9lbs less than those who don’t sneak a peek. ever get confused on exactly, what to look for? never fear. i’m here to help you decode the mystery behind these labels so you know exactly what to look for. so to perform this trick, i’m going to use a (healthy) treat as our subject: froyo. please help me welcome my assistant, halo top creamery, as i reveal the nitty-gritty nutrition facts behind my latest sweet-treat obsession. [applause]
beware: don’t let your eyeballs jump straight to calories without first checking this often-overlooked area. at first glance you might think, “hey, 70 calories…not too shabby!” but note: a serving size of this frozen yumminess is only ½ cup and there are 4 servings in the container. while this is still less than 300 calories for the pint and does less damage than pretty much any other sweet treat, this isn’t the case for all foods. usual suspects include beverages (avoid drinking calories anyway), bags of chips (one serving is usually only 14 chips!), and even healthy foods like cereals and trail mix. portion distortion can be the difference between a 6-pack and a muffin top so keep these serving sizes in check!
now, onto the nitty-gritty. under that top black line on the nutrition label, these are the amounts per individual serving, so if you want to know the total amount of calories (or any other macro-nutrient) multiply it by the number of servings (4). coming from a self-proclaimed anti-calorie-counter, it’s still important to take note of this number to get an idea of how much you can indulge. while this depends on your height, weight, and goals, i aim for 3 healthy meals per day with 2 pre/post-workout snacks at around 200-300 calories and 1 treat around 100-150. warning: don’t think gluten-free, organic, or all-natural foods don’t count. organic, gluten-free cookies are still, well, cookies. calories are calories, regardless!
repeat after me: fat doesn’t make you fat! (sugar does, but we’ll get to that in a moment). counting grams of fat is so 1990’s. in fact, fat is what keeps you fuller longer! but here’s the key: there are good fats and bad fats, so let’s de-mystify this fatty issue.
the good: mono-poly-omega-3-6-9…confused yet? here’s all you need to know – good fats are found in oils (olive, sunflower), avocados, nuts and seeds, and fish (salmon, tuna).
the not-so-bad: research has found that saturated fat has gotten a bad rap for far too long. obviously saturated fats from fried foods are no bueno, but natural sources in meat, dairy, real butter, and (my personal fave) coconut oil are actually linked to decreased risk of cancer, increased good cholesterol, and lower body weight. what’s more: saturated fats are essential for your body to absorb nutrients so eating nutrient-rich foods sans fat could be backfiring!
the ugly: look at the label, see that trans fat? avoid those like vampires avoid daylight. this man-made fat increases your cholesterol, which leads to heart disease. common culprits include baked goods (donuts, cookies, pie crusts, muffins) and fried foods (french fries, fried chicken), and anything made with “partially hydrogenated” has trans fats. don’t be fooled: many “health” foods can contain trans fats such as microwave popcorn, light margarine (use real butter!), whole grain crackers, and many “light” versions of junk foods like chips and cookies.
what’s important here is to check the little percent to the right – that’s your % daily value. anything under 10% per serving is okay – but upwards of 15-20% daily value per serving, wowza. honestly the only time i pay attention to either of these is on canned soups, sauces, or frozen foods – which i shouldn’t eat anyway, but i digress. sodium is more likely to lurk in foods when you eat out anyway, so i wouldn’t stress over this one when dining in.
oh, carbs. everyone seems to have a love-hate relationship with carbs. but remember: veggies are carbs, so not all carbs are bad! now, when it comes to a nutrition label, carbs also include dietary fiber (good) and sugars (not good). you want more fiber, less sugar. one serving of this ice cream has 4g fiber (good) and 4g sugar (not bad at all). but note the “4g erythritol”, which might also be listed as “sugar alcohols”. this natural, sugar-alternative has been compared to stevia as being a “healthier” sugar replacement and hasn’t been linked to spiking blood sugar or all the other negative side effects of sugar-replacements (think splenda or sucralose). but that said, you want to keep sugars down – remember what i said before: fat doesn’t make you fat – sugar does! my rule of thumb, whether it’s a protein bar or greek yogurt, no more than 10g sugar per serving.
everyone’s fave: muscle-building, fat-burning power protein! in almost all cases, the more protein the better when it comes to nutrition label lurking. obviously a light ice cream that touts having 7g of protein is just a beautiful thing, but did you know you can actually take in too much protein? in fact, your body can only process about 30g at a time – and taking in any more than that in one meal will just be stored in your body as fat. so how much protein do you need?
avid exerciser: take in .5g of protein per pound of body weight (120lbs chica needs about 60g protein per day)
athlete or looking to add major muscle: up that to .7g (180lb dude needs about 126g per day)
vitamins + minerals
i may briefly skim these, but am i really looking to my frozen pint of happiness to nourish my body? not so much – but i do appreciate the 7% calcium. unless i’m analyzing a multivitamin, i only glance at what extra goodies my food might be packin’.
% daily value
yep, that’s your % of each of the above nutrients are included in one serving. but remember that this is based on a 2000 calorie diet, so adjust accordingly based on your own food intake.
this is probably the most important part of any nutrition label: exactly what are you putting in your body? here are my top two tricks: 1) the fewer the ingredients the better and 2) if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. this light ice cream isn’t exactly angelic with 16 ingredients and i can’t pronounce erythritol (natural sugar-alternative) or carrageenan (natural seaweed extract), but it’s fairly clean with all natural and organic ingredients and packs some protein to boot. that said, this isn’t a food i seek for my nutritional sustenance, it’s a (healthier) treat that i enjoy in moderation.
final fact: the healthiest foods you can eat have no nutrition label at all! any food sans-label is usually a safe, healthy bet (read: fruits + veggies). hopefully this helps you decode the spooky black and white nutrition labels. chime in if you need any input on demystifying any frightening foods – or share your tricks to label-lurking to live life fit!
the tip trickster,
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