Finally, the last word on label-reading!
We have to look at a few more things. WARNING: here comes the math….
Start with carbs. When we read the carbohydrate data, remember that 1 gm of carbohydrates equals 4 calories. You need to figure out how many calories you’re getting from the carbohydrates in this item. If your daily goal is 1700-2100 calories, you’ll want to spread those carbs out during the day. And if it’s all sugar–especially if it’s corn syrup in one form or another–consider putting it back!
And while you’re looking at the carbs, notice the dietary fiber info listed there. You want to shoot for 20-30 gms of fiber per day. Or 14 gm per 1000 calories. Whichever is mathematically easier. This is an important number.
The next thing to look at is protein which is given in grams. You need about 0.8gm per kg of your body weight. Because one kilogram equals 2.2 lbs, if you weigh 154lbs, you weigh about 70 kg, so you need about 56 gms of protein (or a bit less than 2 ounces). More if you are working out. Keep in mind that protein takes many forms, not just animal. You get it from grains, legumes, seafood.
And finally, let’s look at fat. It is also given to you in grams. Remember that 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories, and you want 25-30% of your daily total caloric intake to be fat. Let me say this clearly: NO TRANS FATS. Even if it says zero, be sure to read the ingredient list to be certain you do not see partially hydrogenated anything. The majority of your fat should come from vegetable sources. Fish is fine. And very little animal fat. If it’s liquid at room temperature, it’s ok. But don’t scrimp on fat. Your body needs it. So eat it, and make it top quality.
While this labeling system is supposed to be helpful, it seems anything but. It’s not even successful at keeping the food processors honest–watch out for the fake serving size. You have to be on top of your nutrition game. If you use that entire packet of salad dressing you got at the drive-through, are you actually eating 2.5 servings? Is the serving size for the cereal realistic?
My advice and my practice is to eat as many foods in their original form as possible. Keep the ingredient list short and sweet. Think about the recipes your grandmother or great-grandmother used before foods became industrially whitened and denatured. The ingredients in the package are listed in descending order with the ingredient in the largest quantity listed first. Look for “whole” grains on the ingredient list and you’ll automatically get more fiber and protein. And if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
Really, I do everything I can to avoid reading labels. Every morning, I pack food to take to my studio: a sandwich including lettuce, spinach, tomatoes (unless it’s pb&j) on whole grain something, a banana, apple, grapes, carrots, celery–whatever raw fruits and veggies I have on hand–and I then munch this food all morning. And I don’t have to read anything. Easy. Simple. Real food. No calculator necessary!
We haven’t even talked about the percentage column….do we really want to go there? How about instead, we focus on eating as many raw fruits and veggies–organic when possible–as we can every single day. Seems like a good trade–eating all the phyto-nutrients and enzymes that we possibly can instead of doing that math…
I’m going to leave it at that. If you want to know all about the percentage of daily intake, let me know. Meanwhile, I’ve got some grapes to eat here…