Let’s face it… most of us ignore nutrition labels intentionally to avoid facing the truth. A lot of our favorite foods and snacks are full of unwanted sugars, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. Unfortunately, if you want your exercise routine to yield any results (whether gaining muscle or losing weight), paying attention to what you eat is essential. This is a crash course in nutrition labels.
Step 1: Serving Size & Calories
Good: Serving size and calories are always mentioned at the top. Can’t miss them.
Bad: Serving size doesn’t usually match the number of servings in the package. Make sure you do your math. If a serving is 200g and the calories are mentioned for 100g, then you need to double the calories.
Do Not Touch: Unless you’re training for World’s Strongest Man, stay away from anything that is over 1000 calories in one serving!
Step 2: Protein, Carbs & Fats
Good: You rarely need to worry about having too much protein. Just make sure to have protein in the majority of your meals.
Saturated, Polyunsaturated & Monosaturated fats are generally good in moderation.
Carbs aren’t the enemy anymore. They are your primary source of energy; so use them when you need them. If you are training hard, don’t be shy with your carbs. If you’re sitting all day at a desk, don’t overdose on them. Fibers are also essential for good digestion; so, try to eat as much as you can. Fibers also give you the feeling of satiety – exactly what you want when you’re trying to eat less and lose weight.
Bad: Added sugars and sodium. Added sugars are what make most sweets, chocolates and desserts taste fantastic (that’s probably reason to list them in the GOOD section). I know you hate me right now, but keep these to a minimum. They make you crave more sugar and put you at risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.
Sodium is essential for the proper functioning of your body and blood pressure. However, too much of it leads to high blood pressure which is bad! Strokes and heart attacks are bad!
Do Not Touch: Trans fats! If you see trans fats or “partially hydrogenated oils” on the label…stay away! These are artificially made fats that are used to extend the shelf life of food and give them distinct taste and texture. Think anything deep fried. They increase your bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Step 3: Micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals)
Good: Micronutrients are essential for a healthy and functional body. The 6 key micronutrients for boosting your immune system are: Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Magnesium and Zinc. Other important ones to maintain in your diet are iron, calcium and vitamin A.
Bad: Despite the fact that we need very little amounts of micronutrients, deficiencies in any of them have big impacts on our bodies. Unfortunately, most people don’t even think about them.
Do Not Touch: Mercury. Some fish and shellfish can be contaminated with mercury which, in large amounts, is toxic to the central nervous system.
Lastly, a random fact you probably didn’t know… the ingredients listed on the label are always ordered by quantity – starting with the largest amounts at the top.
And that’s it! So get out there and start making some healthy food choices!