Jun 18, 2013 / by Ann-Marie Giglio / No Comments

Food Labels continued…

Onward to the math section of our Food Nutrition label.  Keep in mind that these labels are deliberately confusing.  Manufacturers want you to become frustrated and give up.  They want you to rely on the advertisement all over the package rather than take the time to do the math.  AND they’ve listed the facts in a way that requires you to convert things from grams to calories.  Here are the 3 numbers you need to bring with you and you won’t find them on the package anywhere:  one gram of a carbohydrate contains 4 calories.  one gram of protein contains 4 calories.  One gram of fat contains 9 calories.

Now that you know the important numbers, you can begin calculating.  Let’s say your product contains 227 calories in one serving (and I’m just making this up).  The label also tells you that it contains 40 grams of carbohydrates, 14 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat.  When you convert those grams to calories, you get 160 calories from carbs, 56 calories from protein, and 27 calories from fat.

We could analyze every single number in the Nutrition box, but we really don’t want to stand in the aisle for hours reading labels.  So don’t worry about the rest of the numbers.  Look at only 2 more:  fiber content (you need at least 2 grams to make it real) and the sodium content (there’s too much in everything, so get the lowest amount you can).

When I shop, I only look at the ingredient list.  The only time I look at the numbers is when I’m looking for entertainment, like when the cereal box claims to be a healthy breakfast food.  I can’t resist that!   When you see that 2/3 of the calories are carbohydrates and most of them are sugars, to me that says candy bar, not healthy breakfast.  Using a couple of grams of whole grain doesn’t erase the 20 grams of sugar per serving.

So keep it simple.  Read the ingredients.  If they don’t pass your “common sense” test, put it back.  If you’re not sure, do the math!