Nutrition Labels...you know these things on the back of food items? The sticker with a lot of words and numbers. Yes yes that one. It's important! So let's take a minute and learn how to read it shall we?
A few years ago (before my fitness and nutrition obsession and degrees) I would have never looked at a nutrition label and the biggest reason for that is that I was really lucky growing up. We never had packaged food (except for some sweets, cereal). Otherwise 99% of what we ate we locally grown and sourced. It was whole foods. Everything came straight from farmers and butchers. Everything was fresh. I did not have to worry about reading labels because I barely ever saw one!
Once I made it to uni, I was not as good as my mum when it comes to maintaining my nutrition mostly because back then my kitchen skills were really bad. I was literally clueless. But forward a few years, a few kilos gained and lost and a great passion for health and nutrition developed I learned the importance of reading nutrition labels. They have saved my life (mostly my waist line).
I strongly believe in the importance of nutrition education. It can be really empowering and can truly help us be in control over what we put in our bodies in an industry that is making it harder and harder every day.
To keep it simple, here are my top 3 tips on how to read nutrition labels:
1. How many servings is that?
This comes down to portion control. I have been in many situations where someone automatically thought that the whole packet is one portion. I wish! It would make life so much easier. But more often than not it is not the case, so you need to look for that information and manage your portions. This is what you'll find on the label:
Serving size is the size or portion of the product that equates to the amount of nutrients listed. All the information provided in the Nutrition Facts label is based upon the serving size listed.
Serving per container is the total amount of servings per container.
Once you have figured out the serving size, it's time to figure out what that means for the label as a whole.
Let's use a bag of pasta as an example. If the serving size on the label says 1 cup of pasta then the nutrition information (carbs, fats, protein, fiber, etc) only applies for 1 cup. Sometimes, the label will have the nutrition information for the whole packet and not per serving so you need to work out how many servings there are in the packet and then the nutrition from one serving.
Then compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.
2. Keep it short and watch the order!
I am talking about the list of ingredients. When choosing a food, choose one that has a short list of ingredients, this will avoid you eating nasty additives and chemicals. Another important thing here is to look at the order of the ingredients listed. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance. This means that if the 1st or 2nd item on the list are sugar or palm oil, then this is what the food is mostly made out of. This brings me to my 3rd tip.
3. Know your sugars.
Sugar is a devil in disguise. I won't talk about the negative effects of sugar on the body here, but sugar is really sneaky as it has at least 61 different names that are used on food labels. I strongly recommend you get familiar with the most commonly used ones to avoid being mislead.
Here are some common names for you: Sugar/sucrose, High fructose corn syrup, Agave Nectar, Barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, maltose, rice syrup, fructose, galactose, etc etc
Do take the time to read the nutrition labels as they are the only real way to determine whether the food is healthy (don't trust the front label as they can be real marketing tricks) and can even help you choose b
etween 2 options of the same food.
Happy Healthy Living,