I have always been overwhelmed by the Nutrition Facts listed on food but finally decided to conquer it and learn more. It’s hard to know what you are putting in your body without understanding the nutrition label! Here are a few pointers in how to read those pesky labels!
First, look at serving size and number of servings in the package. If it says once cup or gives you a specific number of pieces, that is all the label is based off of. So if you eat two cups, you are doubling your calories/carbs/protein, etc.
Percentage: I tend not to look at this because I eat less than 2,000 calories a day. The percentage is based on a 2,000 calorie diet and the percentage reflects for the day not the snack or meal. Your calorie consumption depends on your size and if you are trying to lose weight. Find a BMI calculator app or online to put your measurements in and tell you a rough estimate of body fat percentage. I use the Body Calculator app and it tells you how many calories you should take in and how many you would need to lose weight or maintain.
Calories/Calories from Fat: The Calories from Fat are pretty explanatory, those are how many of the calories are just fat. Total fat is listed different ways, typically including saturated and trans fat. These are linked to heart disease and trans fat is bad. If you look at the percentage, aim low on these (low is 5% or less; 20% and up is high)
High Percentage: Try to eat a higher percentage (20%+) of your vitamins and fiber, choosing veggies and fruit for the best options.
Protein + Sugar: Sugar turns into fat, so it’s good to limit your sugar intake unless it comes from natural foods like produce. There is not yet a set amount of sugar percentages, so that is not listed on nutrition labels. Protein percentage isn’t listed either, just the grams. You want to aim higher in protein and lower in sugar. The protein is what will keep you fuller longer, the sugar is what will make you hungry faster. Pretty simple.
Carbs!: Carbs are what make my belly poochy. I have stopped counting calories and started counting net carbs, which has made a huge difference in the flatness of my belly. To calculate your net carbs, look at your label. The math is easy (and I HATE math)! Look at the Total Carbohydrate and then underneath it has Fiber and Sugar. Subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrate. Bonus points if your sugar is lower than the remaining carbs! If your label says “sugar alcohol” you add that to your subtraction of fiber from total carbohydrates. It’s best to avoid sugar alcohol altogether!
Chemicals: I’m not learned in what chemicals do what for ingredients. However, I have worked at a chemical company for 5 years now and I know that what comes out of here goes into some food ingredients and let me tell you-I would never want to consume any of this. Chemicals and dyes are simply not ok to eat in my book. If an ingredient list has a lot of chemicals listed, I put it back and look for a brand that doesn’t. My rule of thumb is if I can’t pronounce, I won’t eat it. That’s not to say that I can 100% avoid them but I can do my best!
Ingredient List: You can know what and (sort of) how much of each ingredient is in your food because those that have the largest amount are listed first, in descending order of all the other ingredients. So, if “high fructose corn syrup” is at the top of the list put it back. The fewer ingredients the better. I have an MSG intolerance and I like to know what I am putting in my body, so I always check the ingredient list.
Grocery Route: I tend to stick to the outer edges of the grocery store: produce, meat, dairy. Frozen foods tend to be better than processed food, so if you are looking to budget or buy bulk head there.
What to buy organic: It’s certainly not necessary to buy everything organic. Free range chicken, grass fed beef and wild-caught fish are your best option for protein. They are typically free of hormones and additives. The same goes for eggs-I make sure they are free range eggs and I always get brown eggs. If the yolk is more orange than yellow, the chicken that produced it most likely was a healthy gal. For produce, if organic is on sale and I’m not buying a ton of other things at the store, I’ll go for it. The best fruits and vegetables to buy organic, if you are wanting to do so, are the “dirty dozen”:
Apples, Strawberries, Grapes, Celery, Peaches, Spinach, Sweet Bell Peppers, Nectarines, Cucumbers, Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, Hot Peppers
I hope this helps!