Where do I begin?
I will keep this as simple as possible. While it may be easy to count up your total calories, the variety of foods in the grocery may leave you confused and overwhelmed. So many "healthy" foods...or are they? Low-fat, fat-free, low-sodium, no sugar added...the list goes on. Then there is the issue of serving sizes.
What food is a deck of cards? Is it a tennis ball or a golf ball for a serving of fruit? What finger do I use to measure an ounce of cheese?
Why don't fruits and veggies have food labels on them? What's the difference between the USDA organic symbol and a product that says organic? What is natural product? What is the difference between whole wheat and whole grain? Why are 5 of the first 7 ingredients in Campbell's cream of mushroom soup from oil?
Water, Mushrooms, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Modified Food Starch, Wheat Flour, Cream- Milk - Less than 2%, Salt- Less than 2%, Dried Whey- Milk - Less than 2%, Monosodium Glutamate- Less than 2%, Soy Protein Concentrate- Less than 2%, Yeast Extract- Less than 2%, Spice Extract- Less than 2%, Dehydrated Garlic- Less than 2%
And lastly, with all of the recommendations out there, what do all of those numbers on a food label actually mean to you as an active and fit individual?
1) Organic - look for USDA’s “organic” symbol which is a symbol that indicates that the food was raised using organic farming procedures.
However, the product is 95% with the USDA organic symbol, unless it reads 100% organic. If a product is less than 95% organic, it will not contain the USDA organic symbol. According to the USDA and Mayo Clinic, a food with an organic label does not claim that the food is safer or more nutritious for you than non-organic foods.
2) Natural - the product was made without artificial ingredients or colorings and with minimal processing.
3) Fat and cholesterol:
*Fat Free - Less than 0.5g of fat per serving
*Low Fat: 3g or less per serving or 3g per 100g for a meal or main dish and 30% of total calories (or less)
*Reduced Fat - 25% less fat than a comparable food
*Low Saturated Fat - 1g or less and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat
*Trans Fat Free - Less than 0.5g of trans fats per serving
*Light/Lite - 50% less fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular product
*Lean - Less than 10g of fat, 4.5g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood
*Extra Lean- Less than 5g of fat, 2g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per serving and per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood
*Low Cholesterol - 20mg or less per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
*Cholesterol Free - Less than 2mg per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
*Less Cholesterol - 25% or less than the food it is being compared to, and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
*Salt free - Less than 5 mg sodium per serving.
*Sodium free - Less than 5 mg sodium per serving.
*No Salt added - No salt added during processing (does not necessarily mean sodium free)
*Very Low Sodium - 35 mg or less sodium per serving.
*Low Sodium - 140 mg or less per serving.
*Light in Sodium or lightly salted - 50% less sodium compared with a standard serving size of the traditional food. Restricted to foods with more than 40 calories per serving or more than 3 grams of fat per serving.
*Less Sodium or Reduced Sodium - at least 25% less sodium compared with a standard serving size of the traditional food.
*Calorie Free, Zero Calories, No Calories, Without Calories, Trivial Source of Calories, Negligible Source of Calories- fewer than 5 calories per serving.
*Low in Calories, Few Calories, Contains a Small Amount of Calories, Low Source of Calories - less than 40 calories per serving.
*Reduced Calories, Fewer Calories - 25% fewer calories than the original product (original product may not be "low calorie")
*Light, Lite - meets definition for "Low Calorie" or "Low Fat".
*Sugar Free, Zero Sugar, No Sugar, Without Sugar, Trivial Source of Sugar, Negligible Source of Sugar - less than 0.5g of sugar per serving.
*Reduced Sugar, Less Sugar - at least 25% less sugar than the original item.
*No Sugar Added, Without Added Sugar - no sugar or ingredients containing sugar were added during processing. Must state if food is not "Low Calorie" or "Reduced Calorie".
Here's a guide from Diabetesamerica.com
Here's a helpful online guide, from MyFoodDiary.com
A slide show for portion control, from Mayo Clinic
And one to print out for your family, from Utah Metabolic Clinic
portions and serving sizes
Here's a great explanation (although it may be confusing the first few times that you read it) of how to understand a food label.
understanding a food label
In my opinion, here are 10 things to look at on your food label:
1) Check the serving size.
2) How many servings are in the food item?
3) How many calories are in each serving?
4) After checking the fat, ask yourself if you are eating a food that is high in healthy fats (unsaturated-mono, poly) or unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fat).
5) What percentage of the food is fat? (this is most important if you are eating an unhealthy fat since you do need to prioritize healthy fats in the diet)
6) Check the sodium and cholesterol? Both sodium and cholesterol are needed in the diet but not in excess.
7) How much fiber is in the product? How much sugar is in the product?
8) Is the product a good source of protein (is this a low fat protein food or a high fat protein food?)
9) What is the first ingredient? What are the first 3 ingredients? How many ingredients are natural? If there are more than 5 ingredients, will these ingredients that will benefit your health?
10) Is there a healthier option to this food? If you choose to eat this food, will it satisfy you after 1 serving?
Do you understand nutrition now? Hope this was a good start for you and you feel more confident as you embark on your fitness, health and/or weight loss journey.