Day 7. Nutrition Labels
The Science Behind Reading Nutrition Labels
Understanding nutrition labels and using them to make smart food choices is a crucial part of improving your diet and metabolic health. This Core Fundamental will help you learn more about how to understand nutrition labels and why it’s so important to use them to guide your food choices.
Why Nutrition Labels Matter
When you read and understand nutrition labels, you’ll know more about the following:
• How much of a given type of food is considered a serving
• How many calories are in each serving of food
• Which ingredients are used to make a given serving of food
• How much fat is in a serving, including saturated and trans fats
• How much sodium is in a serving
• How many grams of carbohydrates is in each serving, including grams of sugar and fiber
• How many grams of protein is in each serving
• How well a given food item meets other important nutritional needs
The Science Behind Nutrition Labels
Does paying attention to nutrition labels actually result in better food choices? Scientific research says yes, it absolutely does. A 2014 Korean analysis found that reading nutrition labels was associated with a higher intake of fiber, calcium, and vitamin C, and a lower intake of calo- ries and carbohydrates.1 Reading nutrition labels can lead to a real change in your diet.
1. Kim, M.-G., Oh, S.-W., Han, N.-R., Song, D.-J., Um, J.-Y., Bae, S.-H., & Hong, S. (2014). Association between Nutrition Label Reading and Nutrient Intake in Korean Adults: Korea National Health and Nu- tritional Examination Survey. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 35(4), 190–198. http://doi.org/10.4082/ kjfm.2014.35.4.190
Each label has a wealth of information on it that can empower you to make great decisions. Not only can labels help you decide whether a particular food fits in with your dietary goals, they can also help you compare one brand with another. For example, let’s say you were comparing two brands of spaghetti. By looking at both labels, you may find that one brand has more protein and fiber than the other for the same amount of calories. By taking the time to look at labels, you can choose one food over another and maximize every bite you take.
Make it Happen
Are you ready to take advantage of the difference nutrition labels can make in your diet? Are you willing to commit to reading and understanding the nutritional information for the foods you eat for the next three weeks?
The Challenge: Read the nutrition labels on every food you purchase over the next three weeks. If the food doesn’t help you towards your goals, don’t buy it. If it does, compare it with another similar product to make sure you’re making the best choice.
If you’ve never looked at a nutrition label before, it can seem a little confusing. However, the more you read them, the more sense they’ll make. Soon you’ll be able to pick out the information you need by simply glancing at the label. Keep practicing and your effort will pay off.
Your Next Steps
1. Know What to Look For: Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll find on an average nutrition label:
• Serving Size: At the top of most labels you’ll find information on how large a serving size is. You’ll also find out how many servings are in the container. Pay attention to this! Some packages that look like they may be a single serving may actually be two or more. The rest of the information on the label will be based on a single serving size, so check this first.
• Amount of Calories: The amount of calories in each serving of food.
• Grams and Percent Daily Value: The next section lists how much of each nutrient the food contains per serving, as well as how they contribute to your daily diet. These percentages are based off of the guidelines set by the FDA, which assumes you’re eating 2000 calories a day. If you are eating less than that, or if your protein and carbohydrate goals are different than what the FDA recommends, your percentages will be different than what is listed. Talk with your coach to learn more about how your specific calorie and nutrient needs will impact how you look at nutrition labels.
2. Narrow your focus: Nutrition labels can be overwhelming. Narrowing your focus can help you pick out the information that is most important to you. Are you eating fewer calories? Then the calorie count listed at the top of the label will be important to you. Are you going for more protein? Scan down to the amount of protein listed. Are you trying to eat more fiber and less sugar? Check those areas first. Gradually expand the information you look at to keep from getting overwhelmed.
3. Look a Little Further Down: Look below the nutritional chart to find another valu- able source of information - the ingredients list. This list includes everything that goes into a food in order of quantity. For example, if a box of cereal lists “whole wheat” first, you know it contains more whole wheat than anything else. This list can also help you spot artificial ingredients and heavily processed foods.
A word of caution: many unhealthy ingredients can hide under other words. While sugar may not be the most common ingredient in a given food, you may see words like high fructose corn syrup, crystal dextrose, liquid fructose, or malt syrup. If you plan to use ingredients lists to help you chose what to buy, make sure you understand what each ingredient means first.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice: The more practice you put into reading nutrition labels, the easier it will become to quickly skim through and find the information you need. Keep reading, keep interpreting, and keep making smart decisions to make the most out of every bite.
Think Long Term
Nutrition labels will still be relevant when your challenge is over. Here’s what you can do to keep your momentum going to reach your long term goals.
• Use the internet. Food labels are available on the packages you find in stores, but you can also find nutritional information for many common foods online. This can be particularly useful for learning more about produce and meats, as these items don’t always have labels.
• Keep comparing. See a new item on the shelves that you want to try out? Compare it
with what you’re already used to buying. The more you branch out from the foods you’re familiar with, the more likely you are to find new healthy foods that you love just as much (or even more).