Categories SNA Faculty
What do you look for on a food label? What’s more important… calories or the quality of calories you consume?
Based on my 7 years of experience helping clients, friends and family members lose weight in a sustainable and realistic way I’ve become an expert in reading food labels.
One of the very first things we teach clients is that while portion sizes are important the quality of the food you are eating is vital to weight loss, weight maintenance and long term health.
100 calories from a 100 calorie snack pack and 100 calories from raspberries is NOT the same. A calorie is not a calorie across the board, which is why the old adage “calories in versus calories” out does not always apply.
While we don’t teach clients to calorie count it’s important for you to understand the basics when it comes to reading food labels. Nothing is more important then being armed with the right information when it comes to putting food into your body.
Below I will give you some tips to help cut the stress, anxiety and confusion you may feel when assessing food labels. When you know better – you do better.
There are 13 items that are required to be on a food label. They are:
This is usually listed in cups, pieces or a liquid measure. The number in brackets is the weight of the serving size. This is important to note because it will help you to compare two products that have different serving sizes but weigh the same.
The entire food label is based on the serving size. If you don’t follow the serving size because you have more or less the food label is irrelevant. Make sure to check what you actually eat against the food label because you could end up eating more calories, fat, sugar and carbs then you think.
The amount listed is based on the serving size. This is where you need to ask yourself “What is the quality of these calories?” Just because a food or serving size is low in calories doesn’t mean it’s healthful.
Next you need to ask yourself “Where are the majority of the calories coming from?” You can easily tell by scanning the macronutrients on the food label to identify which gram amounts are the highest. This will tell you where the majority of the calories are coming from.
Fat, Carbohydrates and Proteins
These are the 3 macronutirents that make up the caloric amount per serving. They are listed in grams and not calories on the food label.
Why is this important?
Peanuts are commonly referred to as a protein source but have more fat grams per serving then protein grams. The main macronutrient is fat so they would be classified as fat and not protein.
Yoghurt (not Greek) is also mistaken as a protein source. While it contains protein when you analyze the food label you can see that it contains more carbohydrates then protein.
You wouldn’t be able to tell this from just assessing calories alone. Remember the questions “where are the calories coming from and what is the quality of the calories”.
Fiber and Sugar
Sugar is not required to be on the food label. There is no recommended daily value for sugar as well.
HOT TIP: 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 tsp
Think twice before pouring that bowl of cereal or eating the fruit flavored yogurt.
Aim to have between 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. The food can only claim to be a high source of fiber when it has 20% or more of the daily recommended value of fiber per serving.
Sodium and Cholesterol
If you are eating a whole foods diet 90% of the time and cooking your meals at home then these two components don’t really matter to you, unless of course you have a heavy hand when it comes to adding salt to your meals.
Stick to about 1400 to 2400 mg of sodium per day. This is equal to about 1.5 to 2 tsp of salt per day.
This is a hot topic because it’s been found that dietary cholesterol does not significantly raise blood levels of cholesterol. Stay within 300 mg of cholesterol per day.
All food labels list Vitamin A, Calcium, Vitamin C and Iron. The % beside each nutrient indicates the amount of that nutrient per serving based on the daily recommended allowance of a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Bottom line if the numbers are all 0% then the quality of calories is zero and you should not be eating that food.
When it comes to reading a food label the ingredient list will often tell you more about the food then the actual food facts panel. If the ingredient list looks like a fourth grade science project filled with 13 letter words that you can’t pronounce then put that food back, even if it’s low calorie!
To your health,
About Super Nutrition Academy
Super Nutrition Academy is the ONLY nutrition course that makes it easy for everyday people to understand the complex relationship between nutrition and health. If you're tired of all the conflicting health information out there and want a clear-cut, evidence-based understanding of the nutrition and health topics that matter you, then get started today.