In today's era, companies are extremely smart and they continue to get smarter. They are collecting data from us all over the place in order to carefully target their audience. From target marketing, to capturing your attention with packaging, and use of carefully crafted words and statements that convince you their product is a "better" food option.
The one reason why many people make bad food choices when shopping at the supermarket is because packaged goods are easier to consume. They require no prep work, cook time and can be taken on the go. People also don't understand what all those numbers and ingredients on the side of the box even means.
Okay that was 2 reasons. Don't need to judge, geez.
By understanding the information on the nutrition facts label and ingredients lists, you will be able to make significantly better food choices when shopping for food.
Here are my 4 tips on how to use the nutrition facts labels to make better food choices.
Keep in mind, before you even look at nutrient facts, understand that processed food items are generally not great for you. We should try to stick to whole foods that require as little steps as possible when going from it's primary source to your plate.
Try and find foods with 3 ingredients or less, and you know you're on the right track. For example, buying broccoli. That is one ingredient... broccoli.
1. Serving Sizes - This is the first place you should look before you read any other fact on the label. This will let you know if the numbers you will read below are an accurate reflection of how many you actually eat.
A great example of this was found on the Nutter Butter package I recently finished (wait, I don't eat nutter butters, how'd this sentence get in here). The package says it is 140 calories per serving of Nutter Butter cookies. That's not so bad, right? But when you look at the serving size, that is for 2 cookies!
So if you crush 6 cookies in a sitting, and did that twice in a day, you are looking at 840 calories! That's a huge difference when you thought you were eating around 140 calories.
And to put that into retrospect, you can get meals at fast food chains for less calories than that.
Bottom line here, understanding how to read serving sizes on the nutrition labels can help prevent you from consuming large doses of calories from small snacks.
2. Calories - Once you know how many serving sizes are in your food, you can now figure out the question everyone wants to know. How many calories am I about to eat?
Remember the formula calories in vs calories out. This is generally the rule of thumb when it comes to weight loss, maintenance or gain. Moderation is key here, and to maintain a balanced diet.
You can use a BMR + activity calculator to get a rough estimate of how many calories you will need per day to maintain your weight. This will give you helpful insight to where you can start cutting or adding calories.
You can use this link to find out your calorie needs.
3. PRO/CHO/FAT - Once you know the calorie content, you can see how those calories are proportioned in your soon to be meal.
We all know that we should limit our fat and carbohydrate intake as well as increase the protein that we eat. I think this is a good general rule for most people to try and follow.
4. Ingredients - Looking at the ingredients list is probably the best place you can look at on a nutrition facts label. It can tell you more about how healthy something may be versus looking at calories alone.
The first thing you should know about the ingredients list is that they list each ingredient in order of highest to lowest as far as it's concentration. Knowing this can help you make sense of how a particular food item is created. Example of Reeses Peanut Butter Cup.
My rules for ingredients;
- If you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't be consuming it.
- The lesser the amount of ingredients in the product, the better. Which means it is less processed, and has reduced amounts of chemicals that can be hazardous to your health.
So two products with the exact same calorie count may not be equal. If one of them has 2 ingredients and the other has 10 - go with the one that has 2.
Remember, moderation is key. You can eat "unhealthy" foods and not feel guilty about it. It all comes back to MODERATION. If you eat healthy 80% of the time and live a fairly healthy lifestyle, the 20% you cheat should not impact your "gains".
By learning to use the nutrition facts label to your advantage, you won't let companies fool you into making bad choices allowing you to eat better 80% of the time, giving you ample time to cheat and have your favorite foods, guilt free.