A beginner’s guide to reading nutrition labels
You go to a grocery store and are overwhelmed by the amount of products available to you. How do you pick the healthy options? What should you look for when reading a nutrition label? Do you even glance at the nutrition label? It depends on your goals really. Company’s invest thousands of dollars into their marketing so there’s a high chance the packaging is deceiving and portrayed as a healthy option. Phrases to look out for include: “high fiber”, “superfood”, “low sodium”, and “heart healthy”. You’ll notice a lot of cereal boxes with these phrases.
So what should you look out for while picking up groceries? If your goal is to simply be healthy with no intention of weight loss or muscle gain, I’d recommend highly focusing on the ingredients list. The smaller the ingredients list, the better. Although many health influencers preach about avoiding ingredients and “chemicals” that you can’t pronounce, most of the added ingredients that are hard to pronounce are vitamins and minerals enriched or fortified into the products. If you’re fully plant-based, those added nutrients in the fortified products are crucial to avoid deficiencies, especially if you’re not taking supplements. A few ingredients to avoid, however are things like high fructose corn syrup, palm oil, vegetable oils, artificial food coloring, MSG, and limit artificial sweeteners.
Tip: The ingredients list goes in order, starting from the ingredient used in highest volume.
If your goal is weight loss, unfortunately the first thing you should look out for is the calories per serving. Although the ingredients still matter and weight loss should be conducted in a healthy manner, ultimately it comes down to your daily caloric intake. I do however disagree with the phrase “all calories are equal”. You want to make sure your daily caloric intake is nutrient dense, meaning your food choices should still be healthy.
This is a part of a nutrition label found on an almond milk bottle for example. The serving size is 1 cup, meaning 1 cup of this almond milk is 70 calories. The container itself holds 4 servings, meaning the entire bottle of almond milk would be 280 calories. You’d want to stay within the recommended serving size for a weight loss goal.
If your intentions are muscle gain, your main focus should be the protein content. 1 gram of protein is recommended per body weight in pounds. For muscle maintenance, a healthy amount of protein to consume is 0.8 grams per pound. If a product contains over 20g of protein per serving, it’s considered a good source of protein.
Other things to look out for:
Saturated fat is a main contributor to causing heart disease. It’s mainly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, however some plant-based mock meats are high in saturated fats since they contain oils like coconut oil. Shocking to hear coconut oil isn’t actually good for you right? Health trends can be confusing! You definitely want to avoid trans fats and keep saturated fats to a minimum. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy fats. Olive oil falls under this category.
Sodium content is also important, especially if you’re someone who battles high blood pressure or simply find yourself dehydrated all the time. The recommended daily sodium intake is about 1,500-2,000mg. The 5% next to the sodium content means that 1 serving of this product takes up 5% of your recommended daily sodium intake. This is a good range of sodium for a product to contain. A lot of processed foods, frozen meals, and snacks contain high amounts of sodium.
Lastly, it’s important to look out for the fiber content in a packaged product. In order to find out if a product is a good source of fiber, divide the total carbs by the dietary fiber. If the answer is 5 or less, the fiber content is great! I know you’re thinking ugh I don’t want to do math at the grocery store, but you’ll get the hang of it. Plus I always share my favorite products on my Instagram so follow me there! 🙂 Here’s an example of my favorite brand of toast, Ezekiel bread.
Notice how the total carb is 14g and the dietary fiber is 4g. If you divide 14 by 4 you get 3.5. This passes the fiber test and 1 slice of toast provides 16% of your daily fiber needs! The ingredients are great, the calories are great, the fiber content is great, the sodium content is low, there are no added sugars. This product is a 10/10 in my book. My favorite one is the sesame, go ahead and try it out!
I know this information might seem overwhelming at first, but I promise once you get used to reading nutrition labels and knowing what to look for, your diet will improve dramatically. Hope this helped!