Step 1: Undress Labels, Undress the Truth
We know what foods we should be eating but how do we know if it’s worth the cost? Let’s be honest, we wish we could just pay someone to shop for us in the right amount and the perfect proportions. We wish Oreos had the nutrition label of a protein shake and pizza was justified to be the foundational food group. We wish labels were easier to read!
Sadly, these things simply are not reality. What can we do? We can make the most of it, that’s what! This article is all about understanding the basics about nutrition labels you see on food. If we understand what the numbers are saying than we can make great choices that you can feel in your health and stretch that dollar at the same time! And it’s all about the label!
Legally, the Nutrition Facts have to be available on everything available for sale that is a consumable product. Ever wonder why? The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
This is why we don’t get sick much from what we eat! It’s LOTS of precautionary standards we never see behind the scene that influences the price of food. They also must inform the consumer of:
- Ingredients: Listed from the majority of what makes up the product to the least. Everything in the product must legally be listed.
- Nutrition Facts: These are confusing because they’re actually there because they have to be there, not because the company is nice!
Companies like to be really sneaky with their labels. They prefer marketing tactics and strategies that will appease to your habits (available at our gym library) rather than wondering if you’ll actually read the labels. It works! And guess what? You endorse them with YOUR money…and guess what? Chances are you could get a lot more from your money if you read the labels!
Step 2: Understand the Facts
English language is typically infamous in its complexity and often words have many different meanings both written and spoken. Add science jargon to the mix and the general population could literally care less what the words say on a label! And who can blame them? I’m a science major and had a heck of a hard time understanding labels!
It’s that pesky metric system! Let’s get after the label already!
- Nutrition Facts: Let you know where the label is. They have a minimum standard like this one. Good labels list the TYPES of fats…we’ll get into that (I’m a HUGE nutrition nerd!)
- Serving Size 1: Have you actually measured your food to see how much you’re actually eating? This is a marketing strategy commonly used by companies to keep you coming back to the store more often. For instance: cereal companies know that a typical consumer will consume 2-3x the serving size on the label. There’s a reason we advise shopping the perimeter! An apple is an apple but a bowl of cereal is directly up to the user! Buyer beware!
- Serving Size 2: Yup, part 2. It’s Jamo nerdfest time! See the grams? Add the grams from fat, carbs and protein! What’s the percentage of each? It’s worth your time! This example has 55g (for grams) per serving but only 48g of TOTAL macronutrients (what fat, carbohydrates and protein are collectively called). The remaining 7g is mostly water (what we mostly are too!) and some micronutrients (think milligram stuff like salt, vitamins and minerals – typically these will be less than 1% of the products weight). This particular product has 67% Carbohydrates / 14.5% Fat / 5.5% Protein. Hmmm…what do you think? Good or Bad? This is why I love numbers! They are so honest! Put that calculator to work on the labels or pay more money instead! It’s a choice!
- Servings Per Container: Again, this is a major thing if the package isn’t individually portioned out! Companies love consumers that buy the box! The serving size on this is 8 but what’s more realistic is it will get crushed in 1-2 meals. Add the family and boom…Hey, isn’t that what’s wrong with health currently? Alas, we gotta read the labels!
Step 3: Don’t be Fooled by Calories & Misinformation
Time is your most precious commodity. Take some time before you spend that dollar we all work so hard for! Check this label from the Interwebs! Where do the companies and most people pay attention? The Calories! But what’s in a calorie and more importantly, what does the science say (I love that word…say it with me s-c-i-e-n-c-e…oh, YEAH!)
In Gary Taubes book, ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories‘ he discusses how fat got a bad wrap. Unfortunately, technology wasn’t available and well, people had to make a judgement call. In a book, available in our gym library I might add, is a wonderful book called, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. It’s about why we suck at making judgement calls because we’re influenced mostly by things we see. My favorite line…what you see is all there is…Think slowly about that ;).
- Total Fat: Unfortunately for the consumer, all companies have to list is Saturated Fat (making its comeback by the way – go truth! go!) and Trans Fat (if it has ANY – RUN the other way – immediately put it back NO MATTER WHAT IT IS – it’s literally poison for our body!). Lots of snacks have them and one must do there research. When something has 1 or 2 cookies as a serving size, guess what they’re trying to hide? Watch it!
- The Unsung Fat Hero: Play Juke Box Hero by Foreigner. Yeah. The Unsung Hero, got star’s in his eyes! Great labels will list this as Monounsaturated fat. This rock star fights inflammation and is one of the good guys! They lube us up from the inside out! Mac nuts and Almonds are rock stars!
- Saturated Fat: If it’s not from a cow or coconut/palm tree then watch out! It’s not bad if it’s real. Use thy head my friends.
- Polyunsaturated Fat: Nothing is bad…as long as there is balance. The problem with our diet is that we’re getting too much of this kind of fat (think vegetable oils) and not enough monounsaturated fat. Ever hear of Omega Fatty Acids? Well these ones have the Omega-6 ones…they aren’t ‘bad’ but they do cause inflammation if left unchecked BY THE CONSUMER (that’s you boo!). So check yourself before you wreck yourself and even it out with some Mac nuts or coconut oil (I prefer butter but do you boo).
- Omega 3: Superheros for the body. Seriously, they fight inflammation and inflammation causes chronic disease. Typically your best bet is fish sources or, from an environmentally safe standpoint (*cough MERCURY *cough). Krill oil.
- Cholesterol: Gary Taubes book has so much detail on this it’s rather crazy it’s still misunderstood. Basically it’s essential for all life so if it is/was an animal it’s got cholesterol. PS – eggs can never become chickens, it’s biologically impossible. Chickens just kind of pop them out if they aren’t pregnant. Go to a farm or talk to a farmer. Does that mean it’s bad? Nope…just know where it’s coming from…keep reading.
- Sodium: Do you sweat? Sodium was once thought to cause chronic disease. But guess what. Seems it’s inactivity that’s the problem! Oops. And sadly, it still is. Sodium is an electrolyte and if you sweat you need sodium (ps – if you workout you need sodium!)
Step 4: Look at the Total Sugar
If there’s anything I hope you take away from this it’s this: sugar will kill you. Sugar will cause chronic disease and lead to a slippery slope of addiction. Sugar, scientifically speaking, is something you need to constantly watch for. Ever hear of essential carbohydrates? That’s because there is no such thing. Watch the total sugar. Period. Want a better quality of life, limit the sugar. Most problems can literally be solved if one is able to get sugar addiction under control.
Here’s some science. Sugar = C6-H12-O6 (6 carbon molecules, 12 hydrogen and 6 oxygen, aka 6xH2O…water). Insulin adapts to what you eat, so you literally need to treat sugar like a drug…because it is. Consuming it causes metabolic havoc for 60-90 MINUTES. Are you scared for your health? You should be. Sugar, in the long-term, causes chronic disease. P-E-R-I-O-D.
Too bad most people don’t care. Too bad they’d rather Netflix and chill instead of doing something productive with their family. Too bad excuses are used. Too bad so sad…for the poor consumer that just doesn’t know any better!
And if you don’t know NOW YOU KNOW! Use this information to approach labels with newfound KNOWLEDGE to combat the dark forces of capitalism. Support local and ask me or any of the staff if you have questions!
Your goals are our goals and when it comes to chronic disease and health we’re serious when we say that we’re fighting that war…and we’re fighting the good fight! Read those labels!
A link to help make life easier…Carb Swap Options (Watch the serving size!):