I will admit it….I am one of those super annoying, pretentious people who stand in the middle of the grocery store aisle and read the food label. If I am really going to be honest here though, I usually end up at the grocery store in workout clothes regardless of the fact if I have actually worked out or not. They are much more socially acceptable than pajamas and at least gives the illusion that I have worked out.
In between doing squats and lounges down the aisle to showcase my fitness, I occasionally over hear people trying to make sense of all of the information on a food label. If I am feeling nice that dayand the person doesn't look like the type of person who will want to continue to talk to me about all things nutrition for 20 minutes, I will chime in with my superb nutrition knowledge J
If you are an avid reader of my blog, you will know that I like to use memes to help get my point across. Unfortunately, there aren't really any memes for this, however I did find a marketing fail...
This gentleman has the right idea of looking at the food label; except for he is looking at dog treats and not human food. This poor guy is so bamboozled and overwhelmed by food labels he can’t decipher between dog treats and human food. Well, as you your nutrition superstar, I will not stand for this. No longer should people be so clueless that they end up eating dog food! For this week’s blog I will help you all decode a food label...get excited!
To start with, there are two parts of a food label, the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients list.
Nutrition Facts Panel
This is the nutrition facts panel…
I know what you are thinking, “Ugh…more stupid numbers that don’t mean anything to me.” This is why I am going to break it down and simplify it for you with this cheat sheet:
Below are a couple simple steps that you can take to help you out:
- Check the serving size: This simple mistake or not looking at the serving size can throw off your entire judgment as to whether a product is “good” or “bad.” To exemplify this, check out this label for the Girl Scouts’ infamous Samosas
Note that the serving size is TWO cookies. I repeat TWO cookies. How many of you actually only eat two cookies when you have an entire sleeve staring you in the face?
My guess is it goes a little something like this...
- Look at the calories: To put this into a generalized perspective, 2,000 calories a day is the rule of thumb for how many calories the average person needs a day. Again, this is a very general rule of thumb. If you would like a more accurate picture of how many calories you need in a day, I would recommend using MyFitnessPal. Anyways, going back to the Samosas, 140 calories for two cookies isn’t terrible, but they are small cookies and who only eats two?
- Check out the % Daily Value: I am not going to waste my breath on this one; just know that 5% or less is low and 20% or more is high.
- Look to limit not as healthy nutrients: These include fat, cholesterol, and sodium. If you look on the cheat sheet, the nutrients you want to limit are the ones highlighted in light blue. Use the % Daily Value to guide you to products that are lower in these nutrients.
- Get enough of the good stuff: This includes vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. On the cheat sheet these are highlighted in yellow. Again, use the % Daily Value to help guide you.
To be honest, when I am looking at a food label, I really don’t pay much attention to the nutrition facts panel. Yeah, I may briefly glimpse at calories, fat, and sodium, but I am usually more concerned about the ingredient list. I think it is important to know what you are eating. That being said, here are a couple of rules of thumb that I use:
- Avoid long lists: Some experts say five ingredients are less, but for some that might be a little restrictive. There goes any bottled salad dressing, crackers. chips, etc. Personally, I love Teddy Grahams and they have way more than five ingredients, so I make an exception.
- Avoid words you can’t pronounce: Having a science background, I like to think that I am pretty smart, so when I come to an ingredient that I can’t pronounce it makes me question if I really want to eat it. Since I am so smart and can pronounce many chemistry-based words, I default to a slightly modified rule for this. I stop and think to myself, “would be mother be able to pronounce this word?” As you all like to say in the south, bless her heart but…this is the woman who has a “fracaccino” machine.
Breaking it down
Chances are if a food has a label on it, it has been highly processed and is not the healthiest option for you. You may have noticed that fresh fruits and vegetables do not have a label on them, so you don’t need to worry about decoding a food label. However, if they did here is what it would look like
The ingredient list would read as follows: peach. Pretty simple right? I mean even my mother can pronounce that :) Now if you will excuse me, I need to go get a "facaccino." Until next time!
Keep it Fresh,
Keep it Green,