The food industry is very tricky these days. If you judge a food by it's cover, you'd think that you were eating the healthiest thing eva.
If you're brave enough to flip to the back of the cover, you may still be fooled if you aren't looking at the "right" things on the label.
Well folks, today I'm going to show you how to dissect a food package/cover so that you are fully informed and never fooled again!
Get ready, because when you start following these steps at home you may be shocked and disgusted. When you go to the grocery store the next time, it might take you a lot longer because you're actually fully reading the labels, which by the way, the food folks don't want you to do.
I'll preface this post by saying that the best and healthiest for you foods will not have a food label to them because they are coming in their freshest form. However, I do realize that we live in a busy world and sometimes the things you choose to consume will come in a package. So here's how to dissect it...
I uploaded this image to my FB biz page today and asked folks what they thought the ingredients of this dish were.
I got the usual: chicken, broccoli, noodles, carrots, squash or peppers and some sort of tomato sauce.
Well, here's surprise #1, this dish is actually a lean cuisine frozen meal (spoiler alert, it doesn't look like the picture in real life, lol).
Now if we judged a food by it's cover, this looks pretty healthy right?
Let's now take a look at the full nutrition label and what you should look for in general:
1. Serving Size: This is the most important places to start when reading a nutrition label because this is where the first trick can come in. A lot of times companies will package something to make it look like one serving and you consume it only to later find out (or not) that you've actually consumed 2 portions of it without knowing. This happens a lot with beverages. Check out how Arden's Garden gets you with this:
2. Calories: Important to some, not much to others. I'm personally not a big calorie counter, but if I'm eating something that comes in a package, I will pay closer attention.
Where should you be? Well, depends on your goals and your metabolism. If you're an active female, you shouldn't drop below 1500 calories a day and if you're really active, you can easily eat 2000 calories or more and still lose weight. It really depends on the person. DO NOT drop to 1200 calories or less without a registered dietitian guiding you.
For this item, it's pretty low for a lunch. I coach my clients to make breakfast and lunch their larger meals of the day with a lighter dinner to go along with typical energy demands. To me, 220 is a snack. lol. However, I'm also an advocate for no "snacking" and only 4 meals a day, so a typical lunch would be 300-500 calories.
3. Total fat: Again, another one I don't really look closely at, but if you are following a low fat plan, for an item to be considered low fat, you want it to have only 3g of fat per 100 calories. Again, remember serving size first and foremost with this. Healthy Fat isn't a bad thing at all. It helps you to stay satisfied longer and helps you to metabolize fat and helps to lubricate joints and helps with hair, skin, nails and depression. Remember, healthy fat. Not the deep fried stuff. lol.
This definitely qualifies as a low fat meal.
4. Protein: I do pay attention to this one. While you don't need to go overboard with protein, Most meals need to at least have 10g of protein, though I prefer most having 20g or more for each meal. Protein helps to build and maintain lean mass (muscle which helps with your metabolism) as well as keeps you feeling fuller longer.
This meal has 16g of protein, which is good!
5. Sodium: Now THIS is where most people slip up. They don't look at sodium at all. This is the 2nd place my eyes go to. Consuming too much sodium is really, really bad for your health unless you are one of those few folks who have a sodium deficiency and need more than most. Some of the consequences of too much sodium include increased risk for stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, just to name a few. But the one that you may notice the most...bloating. Yep, consuming too much sodium will cause you to retain water. While the FDA says that you can consume up to 2400mg of sodium daily, for brown people and anyone I coach regardless of ethnicity, I say no more than 1600mg, so average of 400mg (or less) per meal.
This meal comes in at a whopping 620mg which is A LOT. If you do choose something this high, drink extra water to help flush it out and consume less sodium the rest of the day.
6. Carbohydrates: This is another one that depends on your goals. If you are following a lower carb plan, you shouldn't choose pasta anyway. lol. A lower carb plan would be one where you consume no more than 100g carbs daily, with low carb being no more than 50g of carbs daily. If you choose to follow a keto plan (which I'm not a personal fan of), you'd consume around 20-30g of carbs daily.
This meal has 31g (not horrible) but if you were low carb, you'd have to be on your p's and q's the rest of the day not to go over.
7. Fiber: This is another one many don't pay attention to, but should. Fiber plays a huge role in your health because it helps to keep things...um...moving. lol. If you don't get in enough, you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, weight gain, diverticulitis, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and if that doesn't scare you...hemorrhoids.
The aim should be at least 25g daily for women (38g for men), though most Americans only get 15g daily. Per meal that averages out to about 6g per meal.
This meal has 5g which is decent.
8. Sugar: Another sneaky one. We consume waaaaay too much sugar, no doubt you already know this. But the extend of our way too much may just shock you. Our daily allowance of sugar should only be 20g daily for women and 36g daily for men. For the most part, we are speaking about added sugars.
This meal has 6g. So not horrible.
So that's the top part of the nutrition facts label, but the most important part is is the ingredients label. This is absolutely the first place my eyes go when considering a packaged food.
The things I've circled are those things that "don't belong" in this dish. They are unhealthy oils and additives that are unnecessary. Here's why:
Soybean oil: A very harmful oil used in processed foods. It has been shown in studies to cause weight gain, inflammation, and is carcinogenic.
Corn starch: Used as a thickener and to improve the texture of processed foods, though it is high in carbs (1 TBSP = 8g) and calories (1 TBSP = 30 calories)
Potassium Chloride: Is a salt substitute that provides a salty flavor, and impacts the flavor, taste, texture and shelf life of processed foods. So you get the salty taste with reduced sodium. Crazy because it's still high in sodium!
Citric Acid: A natural preservative and provides a sour flavoring. There have been some controversial studies linking it's true origination from a type of mold which can trigger those with mold allergies.
Calcium Chloride: Another additive to increase a salty taste without increasing the sodium content. It also acts as a "firming agent"...ew.
Oat Flour: Can't really explain why this is in here except for maybe another thickening agent. The issue is that it causes an unnecessary increase in carbs and elevation of insulin levels.
Rice Starch: Acts as a natural fat replacer making foods taste fattier, and can make processed meats and vegetables taste "juicier"?! Ew pt 2.
Sugar: Once made sense because of the tomato based sauce to balance out the acidity in the sauce, not sure why it's in there the 2nd time.
So there you have it folks. That is how you dissect a nutrition label and not judge a food by it's cover.
Isn't it amazing all of the "extras" they put in things. Now imagine, you could easily replicate a dish like this and no doubt it will taste better, be better for you and have less "stuff" in it and cost less per serving.
Happy label reading!
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