Nutritional labels can get very confusing, very quickly. Today, we're going to breakdown which facts you need to be paying the most attention to and why they're important.
Why are nutrition facts important and why do a I need to know how to read them?
Nutritional facts can be found on just about every piece of food that you purchase. They allow us to see what exactly were putting into our body, and how much of the item you should consume daily to ensure you're consuming the proper calories and macronutrients.
The first thing to look at when reading a nutrition label is the serving size. This can typically be found at the very top of the list in the form of a measurement. This is important to consider, since the serving size will alter the rest of the stats.
For example, let's take a look at this Protein Cookie label:
Highlighted in green is the serving size statement. As you can see there are '2 servings per container' aka every number and fact listed is ONLY for HALF (or 56.5 g) of this cookie. If you didn't look at the serving size and ate the whole cookie, you would think you only consumed 180 calories, when in reality you consumed 360 calories. For an accurate calorie/nutrition count, you would have to measure out all of your food (or at least closely estimate) based on its serving size.
Once you find the serving size and measure out the proper portion for your goals, now it's time to look at the macronutrients. Macronutrients, macros for short, are the main components of food that we need in high quantity. The three most essential macros are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You can find all 3 in bold lettering on most labels. Let's break each component down...
Highlighted in green are the Carbohydrate facts. This is telling us that by consuming HALF (56.5 g) of this cookie, you are consuming 22 grams of carbs.
The Protein facts (highlighted in green) work in a similar way to the Carbohydrates, so you can read them the same way. Here, when you consume HALF (56.5 g) of this cookie, you are consuming 8 grams of protein.
The fat facts (highlighted in green) become a little bit more complex. The most important of the list is the top fact labeled 'Total Fat'. Total fat, in this case, is stating that by eating HALF (56.5 g) of this cookie, you are consuming 8 grams of fat. The other 3 stats highlighted are less important for the average person, but the general rule of thumb is that trans fat and saturated fat are unhealthy, while mono/poly unsaturated fat is healthier. In this example, you can see that 2 grams of fat is coming from trans fat and 1 gram is coming from monounsaturated fat. This isn't the BEST option when considering trans fat, but 2 grams of trans fat is a fairly small amount compared to other foods, so it's an okay option.
The next most important fact to look at is the sugar and sugar alcohol content. 'Sugar' refers to the common known sugars (fructose, sucrose, etc.) while 'Sugar Alcohol' refers to naturally occurring, lower calorie forms of sugar (xylitol, erythritol, etc.) these are often derived from fruits. Studies show negative and positive reactions to both kinds of sugar, but from it is best to choose foods low in both.
In this example, for HALF (56.5 g) of this cookie, you'd be consuming 14 grams of sugar. That would make it 28 grams of sugar for one cookie, which is quite high for a snack labeled as 'healthy'.
Dietary Fiber is important when considering proper digestion and overall well being. The daily recommendation for fiber intake is between 20-40 g depending on age and gender. It can have a negative effect being under or over on fiber intake, so if you have digestion issues this fact will be very helpful for you.
THE NOT-AS-IMPORTANT FACTS
**Cholesterol, vitamins, allergens, fiber, and ingredients are all important. They're simply on this list because, unless under medical circumstances, they shouldn't be your main focus. Especially when first starting your fitness journey.
- 'Calories from fat' isn't necessary when you have already looked at the 'Total Fat'.
- The percentages (%) listed are based on a 2000 calorie diet, which is not typical for the majority of people, therefore not necessary to look at
- Sodium is NOT as bad as people think. Unless you have a medical condition and have been instructed by a medical professional to lower your sodium, then this is not as important as the media plays it out to be.
DON'T BE FOOLED
Unfortunately, Nutrition Facts labels are not always factual. For starters, the law allows a margin of error up to 20%. This means that even if a food is 120 calories, the company can get away with putting '100 calories' on the label. There are many laws like this that allow labels and food companies to deceive their consumers, so choose wisely!