Reading Labels for Your Health
You know the saying: You are what you eat. But do you actually know what you're eating?
Most people don't really know what they are eating. If you want a healthy lifestyle, you should get into the habit of reading labels.
Food labels are often somewhat deceptive, starting with the part where they tell you how many calories "per serving." If you read it closely and do the math, many packages will tell you that a "serving" has some reasonable number of calories. But it's basically a little white lie in many cases.
Let's look at a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream for example. You give it a quick once over and it says somewhere in big, bold letters that is has just 270 calories per serving. So you think to yourself "That's not so bad! I thought ice cream would be worse than that! I can totally eat this and not gain any weight!"
So you grab a spoon and you sit down in front the TV with your pint of ice cream and you eat the whole thing. While bored during a commercial you notice that somewhere it says there are four servings per container. So, no, you didn't just eat 270 calories. You just ate 1080 calories.
If you are an average adult for whom 2000 calories per day is recommended, that's more than half your calories right there. Worse, you probably did so in the evening as "desert," after eating three meals that day. You may have just hit 3000 calories for the day.
Getting More Out of Labels
But don't just read the part that tells you how many calories it has. Read the entire label, put your brain in gear and do some thinking.
The label has a lot of other info, such as details about specific nutrients. You should also read the ingredients, especially if you have food allergies or dietary restrictions.
Some quick and dirty best practices:
- Learn all the many words for "sugar" to find hidden sugars in your food.
- Learn all the hidden words for "fat" too.
- Look up any words you don't know.
- When in doubt, choose the product listing normal words you do know over the product listing a bunch of mumbo jumbo.
If you are really struggling to figure out how to understand labels, don't hesitate to get some nutrition coaching. Food science has come a long way. It's a well developed science in its own right. There is no shame in admitting that you don't know everything you should know about nutrition.
If you really want a healthy lifestyle, you should do more than just read labels. You should set goals and use the information in food labels to pursue those goals.
If you know you are prone to anemia, you could track iron content. If you know you need more fiber, you could track fiber content.
But don't just rely on your memory. In addition to considering nutrition coaching, you could start a journal to help you track things. Or you could look for an app to help you track things that matter to you.
So how do you set goals? You start by doing a write up of your health issues and picking the most important issue you have.
Maybe you have a chronic condition, like diabetes. You really need to know what you are eating in order to manage diabetes. You need to know all those secret words for sugar and you need to know which foods contain them. Here are just a few you should know:
- High fructose corn syrup
- Maple syrup
Or let's say you are pregnant or breastfeeding a newborn. This puts special demands on your body, even if you are in perfect health.
You not only need more calories, you need more nutrients. When you are pregnant, your blood volume doubles and your body prioritizes the baby's needs over yours. So you need to make sure you are getting enough iron and B vitamins, among other things.
If you are breastfeeding, you need more calcium, more protein and more fats. Now would be a good time to have some Ben and Jerry's, though probably not the entire pint in one sitting!
If you aren't sure what those demands are, you can get nutrition coaching for moms. That's a perfectly legitimate reason to seek out professional help with tweaking your diet regimen and getting better educated about what you put in your body.
This is the kind of work we do. If you are interested in learning more about our services, contact us.