Nutrition labels can be confusing, and many people do not know how to read one when making food choices. Growing up, we learn a food pyramid that represents the number of servings of each category we should eat every day. Then we progress to health classes and watch scary food industry movies but never learn how to read the magical label that tells us what is in our food. I am going to give you 5 secrets to a nutrition label that you may or may not have known before but will hopefully give you a better insight.
1. Your energy drink or recovery Gatorade might as well be your dessert.
Nothing hits the spot like an energy drink or a Gatorade after a sports game but even though it is marketed as a recovery drink with electrolytes and performance, it has as much sugar as 2 Hostess Twinkies or almost 4 servings of Reese’s Puffs Cereal. Does not sound “healthy” does it? If you want a good recovery drink that still tastes sweet, here is my advice. Try to find a good flavor of BCAAs to mix with water. BCAA supplements have been shown to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue, and alleviate muscle soreness. Other options are Pedialyte, Amino Energy Drinks, Kill Cliffs, Fit Aids, Protein shakes, Mio drops, Gatorade Zero, or coconut water.
2. They will trick you; read the serving size.
This is a common trick the food industry will use to make people think that the food is healthy for you. They will put a nutrition label that looks somewhat healthy, but that will be for only 1 serving when the size of the whole thing, could be 2 or 3. I will make my first example of Pop-tarts. You know that Pop-tarts are not healthy but if you want them, you are going to open the box and eat the two that are in a package because it seems like that would be one serving. But, that 190 calories on the nutrition label are only for one of those Pop-tarts in the package, so even though the label says 190 calories, if you eat both Pop-tarts, that is 380 calories.
Another example would be a small box of sour patch kids that looks like it is for one person. The calories on the label say 150, but the servings per container are 2.5. So, if you eat that small box of sour patch kids, it is 375 calories. This is not to shy you away from certain foods but to make you aware of portion control and the amount that you are really eating. This gets shocking when you read chip or cracker labels as well. One serving of club crackers is 4 or 5 crackers…which will not even make you less hungry. Be careful with packaged food serving sizes.
3. You’re now loaded with salt.
I’m sure you never think about the amount of sodium in your food but if you ever wonder why you feel bloated but maybe haven’t eaten that much, it could be because you ate something with a lot of salt, and now you’re holding a lot of water weight. Sometimes our favorite foods have a hidden pack of nutrients like sodium, fat, or cholesterol. That bowl of soup might be low in calories but have 470 mg of sodium. Your body needs all those substances to survive but generally, we get plenty of them in our diet already. So, it is best to limit those nutrients.
4. Superstar nutrients on the bottom of the label.
It is important to get enough vitamins, calcium, fiber, and iron. Good amounts come from fresh fruits and vegetables. These nutrients are good for your hair, muscles, eyes, skin, and teeth. If you ever heard the saying carrots improve your eyesight, that is, unfortunately, a myth; although they do contain a lot of vitamin A which is good for your eyes; dark green leafy veggies and fruits are even better. They contain more antioxidant vitamins like C and E which can protect your eyes from certain diseases. The percentages next to the nutrients are based on a 2,000-calorie diet so the percentages are not very accurate if you eat less or more than that a day. Although if you see low percentages on the bottom of the label with vitamins or 0g of dietary fiber, then you should probably add some more veggies or fruits in your meal.
5. The food scale is your biggest truth.
The measurement for the serving size on a label is not as accurate as of the weight in grams or mL listed next to the serving. If you want to be accurate with portion control and getting the right serving, it is best that you use a scale and weigh your food. You will be surprised by what you thought was accurate until you weigh it. This is only necessary for those who are really watching their portions or may count their macronutrients/ calories, but I will say it is a good habit to get into. It might take a while to do, which is why people often meal prep so that they can weigh everything out at once and then not worry about it the rest of the week.