Nutrition labels can be tricky: do any of the numbers matter? Who determines the daily value? And why does the total carbohydrate count not equal the sum of the fibre and sugars?!
When you reading nutrition labels, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the numbers, and wonder whether it will fit in with our diet or macros. However, it can be very easy to read a nutrition label, when you know what you’re looking for!
Here is what to look for when reading nutrition labels:
This gives us the size for which we can compare the rest of the numbers on the chart. Always look at the serving size prior to the rest of the details because it can be very deceiving!
Be sure to note how much you will actually eat in comparison to the serving size outlined and adjust as needed.
This percent is based on the amount that the government has determined is a suitable level for each nutrient, for a person consuming a 2,000 calorie/day diet. You will want to ensure high values for the following:
Eventually, I would love for most people to be in-tune enough with their food intake that looking at the calories on a label isn’t necessary. If I’m being honest, I would also love for you to not need labels since you’re cooking with fresh, whole foods! Until then, we look at calories - but this should come second to looking at the macronutrient count.
You can read more about the difference between calorie counting vs. macro counting here.
This looks at both saturated and trans fats. In today’s world, nearly all nutrition labels should have 0% trans fats. I also suggest avoiding any foods that are labelled “fat free” (like yogurts or milk) - unless it’s naturally a fat-free food (like fruit and most vegetables)!
Carbohydrates are broken down to sugars and fibre. As a rule of thumb, I say look for products (especially packaged cereals) that have a higher fibre content than sugar content. However, it is important that you look at where that sugar comes from, so always check the ingredient list!
For example, there may be a higher sugar content in a bottle of cold-pressed juice than in a can of coke. Yet, once you compare the sources of that sugar, you see that you will get more nutrients from the cold-pressed juice.
One note: the “Total Carbohydrates” also takes into account other sources of carbohydrates outside of sugar and fibre, so will not equal the sum of the two.
Be sure to keep the protein content in mind! Protein is the building blocks for our growth and repair and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. The amount of protein you will need each day depends on your health and fitness goals.
These are your micronutrients and should be taken into consideration when looking at a food label. The more beneficial vitamins and minerals there are, the better!
Sodium & cholesterol
These are two more common “red flags” on a nutrition label. As always, check the ingredient list to see where each is coming from! For the most part, I suggest avoiding packaged foods high in sodium and cholesterol.
This is the most - let me repeat THE MOST important part of any food label. To be honest, I would rather my clients read the ingredient list first. If the ingredients are suitable, then they can move on to the nutrition facts.
Be sure to scan the ingredients carefully and look for things like hidden sugars (anything ending in -ose or uses the word “syrup”), be sure you can pronounce/know what most of the ingredients are, and note hidden dairy or wheat. Avoid any packaged goods that have food dyes, and ingredients that you may be sensitive to.
So remember, next time you check out a food label, look at the ingredient list first! Then follow through to inspect the nutrition label and focus on fibre, protein, and you vitamins/minerals!
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