Nutrition Facts Label – How to Read
Turn over any packaged product and you are faced with a Nutrition Facts Label. But how do you read it, and what do you look out for? After reading this article you will be able to take 5 seconds and look at the Nutrition Facts Label and determine if this is the right product to keep your fat-reducing muscle-producing nutrition plan in place or not.
Nutrition Facts: Serving Size
The serving size is the first thing you’ll want to look at. Is the portion size indicated a real life amount that you would be consuming? A lot of times I see this number is a little off especially with cereals. Some manufacturers indicate that half a cup of cereal is a regular serving size when a lot of times it is actually a full cup (250ml size). So if that is the case remember to double everything listed below.
Nutrition Facts: Calories
Although I’m a strong advocate of eliminating the focus of counting calories (many people lose track of how good they feel after exercising when their entire focus becomes calorie counting) it is essential to have a higher daily calorie expenditure than intake in order to lose fat weight.
With that in mind it’s a good idea to have a quick glimpse of the calories per serving and making sure it is not abnormally high (very generally a snack should not be higher than 200 calories per serving and a meal should not be more than 500-600 calories if you’re aiming at 5 meals/day).
Note: You will want to take a quick look at the ingredients list to see the top ones listed. A little more on this later but if the list of ingredients is whole grains, low fat dairy, veggies, fruit, or beans/legumes then we know that at least we’re getting most of our calories from something healthy.
Nutrition Facts: Total Fat
Several years ago there was the low-fat fad but we know better now. Some fats are healthy and essential to our diet and also keep us feeling full longer, so here are a couple tips to help you with your decision. Generally you want to have the fat be less than a third of the calories and/or below 20% of the Daily Value. This number should be lower if you’re adding healthy oils like olive oil, or omega-3’s from fish, flax or even hemp into your foods.
Although I believe media has really sensationalized the fact that all saturated fat is bad for us, it’s ideal to have the saturated fat percentage low in comparison to the amount of unsaturated fat we should be getting from healthier Omega 3’s.
Note: Stay away from Trans fats. You want to see a 0 next to Trans fats which have been shown to increase bad LDL cholesterol levels in our blood and increase risk of coronary heart disease.
Nutrition Facts: Cholesterol & Sodium
Shouldn’t be a surprised that you want to keep cholesterol and sodium levels low. In North American diets our levels of cholesterol and sodium are generally way too high so keeping this in check is great for your health.
Nutrition Facts: Protein
I generally like to see the protein value higher than just a few grams as I’ve indicated in many articles on this site (Whey Protein Powder, Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate) that protein has been shown to help fight hunger, provide essential amino acids to our muscles and organs and just make us stronger overall.
It’s a good idea to have at least 30% of your daily calories from protein.
Note: you’ll generally notice that more expensive products are the ones that have higher protein concentrations. That’s because filler products like sugar, flour, water, oil are all inexpensive to produce but they also have the least nutritional value.
Nutrition Facts: Vitamins/Minerals
If our foods have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals than this is a good sign right? Absolutely! Unless you are taking excessive supplements having more vitamins and minerals is pretty much a great thing.
Although this is not part of the Nutrition Facts label I thought I’d also include a few tips when looking at your ingredients list. Manufacturers are required to write the list of ingredients from the greatest amount to the lowest amount in the product. So the first ingredient listed is also the one that is most present, and the last ingredient is the least present.
Watch out for: high fructose corn sugar/syrup, corn/palm/coconut oil, enriched or processed flour, starch, sugars, maltodextrin and anything you can’t pronounce.
I hope this article has helped you in the decision making process for picking healthier food items. Just take a few seconds to quickly glance over the back of any product and you’re going to be on your way to being more successful with reach your health goals.
Have any questions about reading Nutrition Facts Labels? Your comments are always appreciated!