Today, let’s talk nutrition. How many of you are label readers? If you’re not a label reader, I suggest you start reading the labels on the foods that you purchase because there is some important information on those labels. For example, have you ever picked up a small package of something and thought, “This is a nice serving”? Well, guess what! You should probably read the label because sometimes something you think is a small serving or a single serving is actually more than a single serving. If you can hold a package in the palm of your hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s just one serving. You need to read the label to see how many servings are in the container. And when they list out the number of calories, it’s not for the whole container, unless it’s a one serving container. It’s very interesting that a package of salad, like the smaller Marketside Spring Mix that I get from Wal-Mart, says they’re one serving and it’s 20 calories for that one serving. Yet, I was eating on one today and had to split it into two because there was a LOT of food in that one package.
However, when looking at a can of peas that I have, I noticed it has two and a half or three and a half servings in the can. That container is a lot smaller than the package of salad, but you have to split it 3 ways to get one serving! So, you can’t just look at the size of a package and know how many servings it is, thinking it’s one serving. You need to actually read the label to see how many servings are in each container. And then when you look at the calories, you multiply that by the number of servings to see how many calories you’re going to intake if you eat the whole thing. For example, take one of these small pint-sized cups of ice cream that look like they’re one serving. Guess what! They’re FOUR servings, so you need to split it into four in order to get just one serving. And it’s usually two or three hundred calories per serving. So, if you eat the whole thing, you’ve easily eaten almost a day’s worth of food in that one container, so you need to be careful. You need to read the labels.
Labels also list out the ingredients, minerals (like sodium), and macronutrients (like protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and fat). Be sure to read the percent of fat that is in each container. You want to avoid saturated fats and trans fats because those are really bad for you. It’s OK to consume monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats because those are healthier fats. Those are the fats that you find in fish and some oils like omega three oils. Oils are in a lot of fish and seafood like sardines, salmon, cod, and canned light tuna, just to name a few. Those are good fats, but for the saturated fat and trans-fat, you want to look for labels that say 0%, and the amount of saturated fat that you consume should not be more than 10% of your total calories. So, if you are consuming 1,800 calories per day, no more than 180 of those calories should come from saturated fat. Every gram of fat equals 9 calories. That means, with a daily intake goal of 1,800 calories, you should not consume more than 20 grams of fat.
Now let’s talk about these percentages. Just as an example, say you’re trying to lose weight and you’ve been told that you need no more than 1,500 calories per day. When you look at those percentages, they’re based on a two thousand calorie diet. So, if it says it’s 5%, it’s not 5% of what YOUR intake is, but it’s 5% for someone who’s going to intake 2,000 calories. Therefore, the relative percentage will be higher for someone who is trying to cap their meals out at 1,500 calories. Hopefully, that’s making sense to you all.
You also want to look at the Carbohydrates or carbs section on the label because it breaks it down into dietary fiber and sugars. You may already know that carbs break down into sugar, but oftentimes many packages have added sugars in the container. Again, the percentages are for a 2,000 calorie diet, so for a person who’s not consuming that many calories in a day, that percentage of added sugar is going to be even higher. You want to look for things that have dietary fiber in them, and low carbs is probably better, unless you’re an athlete that’s trying to bulk up for some kind of sports event. If that is the case, you will want more carbs to burn for energy. However, if someone’s trying to lose weight, it is better to have lower carbs than higher carbs. If you’re counting carbs as a part of your fitness journey, you can calculate Net Carbs by subtracting the Dietary Fiber from the Total Carbohydrates count. In addition, every gram of carbs is equal to 4 calories. This is the same for grams of protein.
The label also references sodium. For those of you who are dealing with high blood pressure issues, it is a good idea to avoid things that have a lot of sodium. While most people can safely consume around 2,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, those with high blood pressure should consume less than that. If you notice a lot of swelling or water weight gain in your legs, you are probably consuming too much sodium. Cut back and talk to your doctor about a safe consumption amount. So, I’m looking at a label right now that has 300 mg of sodium, and that’s already 13% of the daily total for a 2,000-calorie diet. If you have a daily goal of 1,500 calories, then that percentage is going to be even higher. That may be more sodium than you want to consume for one item since it is not even a full meal. You just need to make sure you count up the total amount of sodium that is included for every meal or snack that you are eating. If you eat a lot of packaged foods, you need to carefully read the sodium content listed on the labels because a lot of the so-called healthy meals can easily have 1,000 mg of sodium in that one meal, causing you to almost reach your max for the whole day. After that, you probably can’t have a snack of chips or pretzels because those are usually loaded with salt/sodium as well. The good news is that there are lower sodium options, as well as baked goods, which are better than fried.
Something else important that you can find on labels is cholesterol information. If you’re dealing with high cholesterol, it’s good to keep a check on what cholesterol percentages are in the foods that you eat. So again, when it says a percent it’s based on 2,000 calories, and if your calorie count is less than that, then the percentage is going to be even higher as far as cholesterol goes. Me personally, I try to avoid things that have cholesterol in them. Unfortunately, I love cheese and cheese has cholesterol, but I try to get the cheese that has less than five milligrams of cholesterol so that it’s not as bad on me. And I try to minimize that to no more than once or twice a day. I love cheese and was eating way too much, both sliced and shredded almost every day, but I’ve learned to cut back and stop doing that. Try to get cheese that’s low in fat, made with skim milk, and watch those cholesterol levels.
Protein is a good thing to see on the labels, especially if you’re doing a lot of strength training. Using resistance and lifting weights, you need to make sure that you’re consuming enough protein in order to rebuild those muscles as you tear them down with the exercise. Don’t overdo the protein though. Confirm with your nutritionist what is best for you.
Looking at the vitamins and minerals, you still need to check the percentages for these different nutrients to make sure that you’re in the right area as far as how much you’re consuming. Just be careful and add up everything that’s on these labels to make sure that you’re not maxing out on what you’re supposed to be consuming. As always, we’re going to suggest that you talk to a nutritionist to find out where you’re at as far as how many calories you should be consuming based on your fitness needs, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Find out how many calories you should consume in order to lose weight. Start with your primary care doctor. If you need to get referred to a nutritionist, be sure to keep your appointment! Of course, nutrition has to go along with physical exercise, so it helps whenever you’re keeping a low-calorie diet and then exercising on top of that. Whenever you burn off more calories than what you’re eating, you’re going to lose weight. So, talk to your nutritionist about your daily caloric intake and come to GFI for an exercise regimen to maximize your results.
So, this is just some things that we want to make sure that you’re doing. Read those labels. It also lists ingredients. Some ingredients are good for you, and some are bad for you. Hidden sugars, for example, are not called sugar. There are various names for them. There’s dextrose, maltodextrin, sucralose, and all kinds of things like that, where there are artificial sugars or ingredients that break down into sugars, like carbs that break down into sugars. So, you need to be careful when you’re reading the ingredients. The first ingredient is the main ingredient. There’s more of that ingredient than the other ingredients. As you look down the list, the farther you go down on the list, the less amount of that ingredient that’s in there. It’s a higher percentage from the start, and then it decreases in the amount from there. So, make sure you’re looking at the ingredients. If you’re looking for something healthy in your package and it’s at the bottom of the list, there’s barely any of it in there! Don’t be fooled by the advertising on the front of the package that might promote a particular ingredient, but then you look at the label and that ingredient is at or near the bottom of the list. That means it’s barely in there, and there’s more of the other ingredients in there. You have to be careful of that. Check the label to see just how much of that good ingredient is in there.
It is also good to read the ingredients in case you are allergic to some foods. Many foods have corn syrup, other kinds of syrups, high fructose corn syrup, or fructose, which are sugars that you need to be limiting in your diet. I’ve found that whenever I am going about my day, if I consume sugar, even if it’s like a small mini candy bar because I get cravings, it messes up my weight loss progress. You would think that it wouldn’t be a big deal, but my body can tell the difference if I consume sugar. Who doesn’t get cravings though? I get a sweet tooth every now and then, and I need some sugar. But I try to avoid it as much as I can, or I eat some sweet whole fruit to take away the craving. Of course, I do have days where I slip. Some people try to put cheat days in their diets. I try not to do that simply because I may abuse it or overuse it. So, I don’t plan for a cheat day. Instead, I meal prep every weekend to plan my meals and snacks so I can remain focused on staying on track of what I’m supposed to be doing. That way, if I do have a day where I slip, it’s not as bad because it’s just once in a blue moon. That is just something to think about when you’re planning your diet.
Something else I would like to suggest is tracking your meals that you eat. If you’ve gone to a nutritionist, you’ve talked to your doctor, and they’ve given you a plan and told you what you need to do to lose weight, or the number of calories that you need to consume if you want to maintain your weight, it is a good idea to track your daily calorie intake. There are apps you can use, or you can track it on paper. I prefer the paper option myself. If you’ve already reached the level where you want to maintain, it is still good to track your calories to maintain your weight. It helps me when I track my food intake. Please don’t go off and try these crazy fad diets. Eat what you like to eat. Just cut down on your calories. Don’t eat as much of it. You shouldn’t have to give up your favorite foods. If it’s something high in calorie, cut back on how much you eat of it. If it’s something that’s high in calorie, but you can make some substitutions that don’t have as many calories in the ingredients, I would suggest doing that. It’s all about eating what you like to eat but cutting down on your calories. You can do it! I believe in you! You can do it with food substitutions, or by just eating smaller portions.
Speaking of portions, did you know that the portion sizes that were being eaten 25 years ago are drastically less than the portion sizes of today? If you go to a restaurant or you even go into a grocery store and you look at portion sizes, the portions are a lot bigger than what they used to be. A regular-sized bagel used to be the size of an English muffin, but now the bagels are huge. They’ve doubled in diameter. They’re twice as big now, and the calories are more than twice as much. It used to be about 140 calories for a bagel, but now it’s more like 350 calories for a bagel. It’s crazy! A cheeseburger used to be a simple cheeseburger. You’d have an almost flat bun with a burger and a slice of cheese, with 333 calories for a portion. Now you have these huge sandwiches. Arby’s says, “We have the meats” and they are not kidding! They have huge sandwiches. You have Big Macs at McDonald’s, and huge Whoppers at Burger King, where the portion sizes are a lot bigger. Of course, they’ve added vegetables on there, but they’ve also added all those special sauces. The buns are bigger, and they’ve even made the meat bigger. You have a quarter pound of meat on a burger now. Before, it wasn’t that big, and it was a complete single portion.
Check out the Stacker website for the article on 50 ways food has changed in the last 50 years: https://stacker.com/stories/2500/50-ways-food-has-changed-last-50-years
6 thoughts on “Fitness Tips – Nutrition Labels”
Knowing what food contains, from sodium to cholesterol, is integral to maintaining a nutritional lifestyle. This is good information to have, especially when it comes to building a robust diet.
Hi Carola! I totally agree. People tend to forget that nutrition works hand-in-hand with exercise for fitness success.
As mentioned above labels are of different types. As our body needs a small amount of sodium to work properly, but too much sodium can be bad for our health.
In the article you also mentioned cholesterol by taking the example of everyone’s favorite cheese is right to understand the excess of cholesterol. Thank you for sharing this informative article with us.
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Hi Kobe! You’re very welcome! Thanks for your comment! We appreciate the feedback! Feel free to let us know what other topics you want to read more about. 🙂