I mentioned on my blog before that I use to work at a weight loss clinic. The program I helped clients do had 3 parts: weight loss, transition then maintenance. Basically, I helped people lose weight using pre portioned diet food then taught them how to transition back into eating real food to keep their weight off for good!
In this maintenance phase I covered topics like how to approach the grocery store, what your plate should look like, what proper serving sizes look like and most importantly how to read a nutrition label.
Instead of boring my clients to death breaking down a nutrition label into every single teeny tiny part I would always highlight the 5 things I personally thought were the most important to check.
I believe it is so incredibly beneficial to know what to look for on a nutrition label and hope you find this post educational!
Please feel free to weigh in and discuss your thoughts and opinions on this very important subject and just remember these are my personal thoughts and opinions–I’m not a doctor.
The 5 Most Important Things To Read On A Nutrition Label:
Ideally you should be eating foods that don’t even have a nutrition label or ingredient list. You buy a head of lettuce…guess what the only ingredient is lettuce and you’re good to go. Being realistic though most people purchase packaged, frozen, shelf stable foods that have an ingredient list on a regular basis. I don’t really care how many calories, grams of fat, carbs…etc are in my food–what I do care about is that I am nourishing my body with healthy whole food ingredients.
Here’s a couple tips for reading an ingredient list:
- Ingredients are ordered by volume. The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the more of it is in the product. If sugar, high fructose corn syrup or any other sweetener is the first thing on that ingredient list do not even think about eating/ drinking that product.
- Live Lean Eat Green ingredient list rule #1- If you don’t know how to pronounce an ingredient you probably shouldn’t be putting it in your body. I read some ingredient lists are get freaked out. For example, Bryce bought Doritos from Costco the other day and naturally I read the ingredients…monosodium glutamate and maltodextrin…WTF? Not going into my body!
- Always look for products with whole food ingredients. Think reading things like organic tomatoes, garlic, parsley…etc.
- The shorter the ingredient list the better. For example, when I buy almond butter (pictured below) I always read the ingredient list to be sure the only ingredient is almonds. Some brands sneak nasty things like palm oil, sugar and excessive amounts of salt into their products so be careful.
These are the ingredients on Trader Joe’s whole wheat tortillas. WTF is monocalcium phosphate, guar gum or ascorbic acid?
This is the ideal ingredient list. Short and sweet!
2. Serving Size
Checking the serving size on a product is incredibly important. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people drinking one of those sugary premade coffee drinks thinking they’re only 100 calories and 10 g of sugar because that’s what the nutrition label said. Ummmmmmmmm…what they forgot to look at is the fact that there can be 2-3 servings in 1 bottle. Without even realizing it people can consume MUCH more calories and sugar than they originally intended to.
Always, always, always check what the serving size is then proceed from there.
Ignore where nutrition labels say “calories from fat” next to the calories in a product. This means nothing because there are good fats you want in your food and bad fats you DO NOT want in your food! Always read below where the label breaks down the Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat and sometimes Poly and Monounsaturated Fat.
Saturated and Trans Fat are the “bad fats”. It’s recommended to keep Saturated Fat intake no more than 10-13 g/ daily and as little Tans Fat as possible.
Poly and Monounsatured Fat are the “good fats”. Common sources of these healthy fats are almonds, salmon, olive oil, avocados…etc.
Just a quick note on fats. Sometimes “0%” and “fat free” options are not always the best. It’s these products that are often stripped of their healthy fats and then have sugar added in for flavor/ texture. Again…just read those ingredients!
American’s consume insane amounts of sodium (salt) in a day an we wonder why we feel bloated, puffy and thirsty all the time. It’s recommended to keep your sodium intake less than 2,400 mg (1 tsp) per day.
Now here’s the scary part…1 can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup can have over 2,000 mg of sodium in it. That’s your entire day’s recommendation of sodium in 1 sitting.
Canned, frozen, shelf stable foods are where you really want to watch sodium levels. In addition dressings, marinades and sauces can be packed with unhealthy sodium. For example, 1 tbsp of soy sauce can have over 800 mg/ sodium.
Excess sodium in your diet can lead to elevated blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, and that creates an added burden on the heart. This increases your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease…etc PLUS it makes you feel bloated and puffy all the time–no thanks!
Canned goods contain TONS of sodium. Just this 1 can of beans contains 1,505 mg of sodium…YIKES! Remember to read those serving sizes!
Sugar is a sneaky little bitch.
The amount of sugar listed on a nutrition label doesn’t distinguish between naturally occurring sugars (lactose in milk/ yogurt or fructose in fruit) and ADDED sugar like high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, splenda…etc.
I personally think this needs to change ASAP! People don’t understand grams and stuff on labels but they will certainly understand there is ADDED sugar if I says it right on the label–just saying!
Another very frustrating part about sugar on a nutrition label is the fact that sometimes a label shows 0 g of sugar but when you go to read the ingredients you see things like Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Sucralose (Splenda), Stevia…etc which are actually 1000000 x sweetener than regular sugar. You also want to look out for ingredients that end in an “-ol”. These are commonly sugar alcohols like maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol…etc which you really want to avoid.
I’ll save my thoughts, opinions and feelings on 0 calorie sweeteners/ sugar alcohols for another post. Seriously it will need like 10 part series but for now you can read this post I did on diet soda.
The best advice I can give on this is to read the ingredients and look for where you sugar is coming from.If it’s from natural sources like honey, dates, maple syrup, fruit…etc I wouldn’t worry too much but if it’s from freaky, scary chemicals STAY AWAY. Oh, and I’ll say it again…if an added sugar is one of the first things on the ingredient list DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT even think about consuming that product!
American’s consume WAY too much sugar–it’s no wonder everyone is sick and overweight! If you take one thing from this post make it be to limit your sugar intake! I feel very passionately about this subject and with articles going viral on social media about sugar I think it’s time to talk about it more! I’ll be doing a post next week on ways to help with sugar cravings so stay tuned.
What do you think is the most important thing to read on a nutrition label?
Do you read nutrition labels?
Have you ever eaten/ drank a product only to them realize there were like 5 servings in it? I sure have haha!
+Please remember I am not a doctor. These are my personal thoughts and opinions. Always seek proper medical advice before changing anything in your diet.