This is all about making sense of nutrition labels.
I know, they seem super intimidating, and downright terrifying.
But don’t worry, with a little bit of guidance, you’ll be able to see how much information they provide. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to be using this nutrition label:
It is from some random food item, and we don’t need to know what it is in order to figure out what is in it.
It is far more important to me to know the ingredients than the label, but I do think it’s important to look at a label and be able to understand it.
This label is usually on the side or bottom of a box. It’s generally not the first thing the company wants you to see. They want you to see the pretty colors, health claims, and all that work they’ve put in to try to get you to purchase this product. Your assignment from here on out, for every product purchased that comes in a package, is to read this label. It contains valuable information, and you definitely need to know it.
The very first thing you need to look at is the serving size. In this case, it’s one bar. For cereal and other bulk items, it’ll be a specific amount, usually 2/3 cups. Do we really ever eat just the single serving size that they offer? Generally, the answer is no. So pay attention. Don’t eyeball it. Get out your measuring cup, and take a look at how much you’re really consuming. So say you measure out your normal bowl of cereal, and it turns out to be 3 serving sizes. For all the information, it needs to be multiplied by 3 in order for you to get the correct reading. But in this case, it is one bar, so this would be for that one specific bar that you’re consuming. Also, look at how many servings per container there are. There are 4 servings in this item, which means that there are 4 bars.
The next thing to pay attention to is the calories. There are 170 calories per bar. Next to the calories, you see that the calories from fat is 50. The reason that this is important is so you can see how much of this bar is composed of fat. To find that, you take the calories from fat and divide them by the total calories in the bar. So in this case, it would be 50 divided by 170. 50/170=0.29, which is 29%. So 29% of this bar is fat. This could be good, bad, or indifferent, and it all depends on where the fat is coming from.
Look at those percentages on the right. They’re telling you how much of this product goes towards the daily recommended value. So, if you look at the total fat, you can see that it says 9%. This means that this bar offers 9% of the maximum fat that you should consume in a day. If you look at the saturated fat, it says 19%. So 19% of the saturated fat that you’re allotted per day is given to you in this bar. This is something to keep an eye on if you’re regularly consuming packaged products. You can see that this bar offers almost a quarter of all of the saturated fat that you should be having today. The same goes for the rest of the percentages.
If you look at where it says Total Fat, it says 6g. This means that there’s 6 grams of fat in this bar. The not-bolded lettering indented underneath tells you how that fat breaks down. There’s 4 grams of saturated fat in this bar. Saturated fat has been a really iffy topic in the media lately. It was said that it’s been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, but now there’s new studies showing that maybe those earlier studies were all wrong. I don’t know. I would say keep the numbers lower, just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion.
The next spot under saturated fat is Trans Fat. This was an accidental man-made fat that happens during the hydrogenation of oils. It means that they’re trying to make it last longer on the shelf, but really all it does is kill you. Trans fat is, as a college professor said, a double negative. It lowers your HDL (good cholesterol) and raises your LDL (bad cholesterol). But here’s a little known secret. When it says that there are 0 grams of Trans fat, that’s telling you that there are 0 grams of Trans fat per serving. Manufacturers are allowed to say that there are 0g of Trans fat as long as there is less than 0.5g per serving. So let’s say that there is, in fact, 0.45 grams of Trans fat per bar. If you eat all 4 bars in this package, you’re getting 1.8 grams of trans-fat in your system. Now add in all the other processed junk you eat. It’s starting to look scary, huh?
It says that there’s 13 mg of cholesterol in this particular bar. It’s recommended that you consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day. So, as you can see, this is 4% or your daily recommended amount of cholesterol. It doesn’t seem like much, but 4% here and 10% there, it adds up fast. If you’re worried about heart disease, pay attention to this.
There’s 83 milligrams of sodium in this bar. Doesn’t seem like much, right? After all, it’s only 3% of your recommended amount. But do you know how much the recommended amount is? 2400 milligrams. That’s only a single teaspoon. Think about how much you add to your mashed potatoes or pasta? Please pay attention to this. High salt intake causes water retention and makes you feel super bloated. If you already feel that way, try to scale back on your sodium intake and drink more water. You’d be surprised at how something so simple can help you out.
There are 33 grams of carbs in this bar, which is 11% of your daily intake. Of those 33 carbs, as you can see, 4 of them are dietary fiber. Fiber is good for you. It keeps you full and keeps you regular. You need it. 25 of them are sugar. This is generally not a good thing. That means that 76% of the carbs in this bar are from sugar. Limit your sugar. Sugar has been linked to all sorts of things from addiction, to mental disorders, even to physical ailments.
Then there’s protein. This bar contains 3g of protein. Protein also helps to keep you full. So try to find snacks that have a 1 to 3 protein to carbs ratio for the maximum stay-full power. Protein is necessary for muscle growth, amongst many other things. So keep up the protein.
None of us are perfect, but as long as you’re making a conscious effort to better yourself, you deserve ten gold stars as far as I’m concerned.