How To Read A Nutritional Label

How To Read A Nutritional Label

When you go to the grocery store and you buy your groceries for the month, do you pay attention to the nutritional label? Most of the population has no idea how to read one and by not knowing how, they could be ingesting more calories then they think. How many times have you bought food and drank the entire bottle or eaten the entire package? More often than not, you probably have at one time or another. But what does each of these lines mean and what kind of effect does it have on your body? In this article, I hope to break down all aspects of a nutritional label so you can be better equipped and be able to know exactly what you put in your body.

 

Serving Size – A serving size is typically the basis on which the rest of the nutritional information is based on. If you look at the label above, you’ll see that a serving is 47 grams. Unfortunately this label does not tell us how many servings are in the container.

Servings per Container – This is pretty self explanatory. This is how many servings are in the container. For example, if there are 8 servings per container at 47 grams each, if you eat the entire box, you would consume 1456 calories (182 x 8). Then you would multiply all of the other nutrients by 8 to get the total per container.

Calories – Calories is the amount of energy to raise one kilogram of water by one degree centigrade. In layman’s terms, calories are units of energy. Now there are actually two types of calories: calories (small c) otherwise known as cal and Calories (big c) also known as kcal. The big c version is what we typically see on labels. In reality a food that contains 100 Calories actually contain 100,000 calories, hence the ‘k’ in kcal. This is the potential energy that 100 Calories can actually provide our bodies. Calories are what supply our cells, muscles, organs, and bones with the needed nutrients and energy needed to function.

Total Fat – Total fat includes Saturated, Unsaturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, and Trans Fat. All fats contain carbon and depending on if it has a double bond or single bond will determine the type of fat. Saturated fats only contain single bonds. Unsaturated contain double bonds. Monounsaturated fat contain one double bond and all other bonds are single bonds. Polyunsaturated fats contain more than one double bond. Fats are one of the most important macronutrients in the body. The others being proteins and carbohydrates. Fats are essential which means they must be either ingested from the diet or supplemented. The cell membrane of every cell of your body is composed of fat. Which means it is important that you get enough fat in your diet.

Saturated Fat – Like I stated above, saturated fats only contain single bonds. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and liquid when heated. Animal fats, eggs, butter, and oils are high in saturated fats. There has been a lot of debate whether saturated fats are bad for you or good for you. Lauric acid is very prevalent in coconut oil and has many anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Saturated fats also strengthen your immune system and help fight against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Unsaturated Fat (Mono/Poly) – Unsaturated fats are double bonded between carbon atoms. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are also part of this category. These types of fats reduce the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and stroke. They also decrease cholesterol levels and reduce belly fat. Because fats contain 9 calories per gram, you are more quickly satisfied when consuming a meal with high levels of fat.

Trans Fat – Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fatty acid and are typically thought of as the ‘bad’ fat. The reason why trans fats is bad is because of the process. When a liquid fat is converted to a solid through a process called hydrogenation. Basically refining fat by adding hydrogen atoms. You may be wondering why some manufacturers do this. The reason is to improve shelf life and flavor of the food. The most common foods that contain trans fats are margarine and shortening.

Cholesterol – Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) that maintain the fluidity and structure of a cell. Because of this, cholesterol is an essential nutrient. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL (high density lipoprotein) otherwise known as ‘good’ cholesterol and LDL (low density lipoprotein) or ‘bad’ cholesterol. HDL travels through the bloodstream and removes LDL from the body. By doing this, HDL reduces the chance of heart disease and any other related heart problems. LDL is considered bad because too much of it can clog arteries and result in heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease.

Sodium – Sodium, otherwise known as sodium chloride, or salt is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. The others being Potassium and Magnesium. This mineral is essential to maintaining blood pressure, aids in nerve transmission, and fluidity of cells in the body. If you trained in the gym and you have experienced intense cramping, the culprit is most likely a lack of sodium.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the second macronutrient opposed to fats and proteins. Carbohydrates are typically derived from wheat, starch, or legumes. Carbohydrates are broken down in the body into glucose which then either converts to glycogen in the muscle or fat deposits in the body. Carbohydrates are your primary energy source and once depleted will then use ketones from fats. The glycogen in the muscle is the main source of energy your muscles utilize for contraction and retraction. Carbohydrates are mainly converted to simple sugars such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, etc. They are composed of 4 calories per gram and are non-essential for the body.

Fiber – Fiber is the part of a food that are indigestable and acts as bulk or roughage. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is able to be dissolved in water and insoluble is unable to mix with water. Common sources of fiber are vegetables, beans, and psyllium husk. Fiber is important for regulating your digestive system and help aid in bowel movements.

Sugar – Sugar is the simplest form of broken down carbohydrates. Sugars typically have a sweet flavor and are used to enhance the flavor of certain foods. The problem with sugars is that it is very addictive especially when combined with fats. It has been shown to contribute to obesity, heart disease, and insulin resistance. Sugars are quickly broken down and absorbed by the body which is transported to fat cells for emergency situations.

Protein – Protein is the third and final macronutrient and is essential to life. Muscles, enzymes, organs, tissues, and multiple processes require protein. Proteins are made up of different amino acids which are produced by messengerRNA. mRNA reads a DNA strand and produces a string of amino acids which then turns into proteins. Almost every cell in your body contains a portion of protein. For example, your blood contains hemoglobin which is made of proteins. They perform several functions from maintaining fluidity, breaking down nutrients, and playing a role in nerve transmission. Protein synthesis is a process that repairs broken down muscle tissue and fibers.

Vitamin A – Vitamin A is known to aid in vision and the immune system.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system.

Calcium – Calcium is an important mineral which contributes to proper bone and teeth health.

Iron – Iron is an important component of the hemoglobin in the blood. This is why when you get a bloody nose, you taste metal (along with Copper). Without iron, you can become anemic which means that red blood cell production is reduced which results in feelings of fatigue and weakness.

 

With all the information I provided, it may seem overwhelming. But for the most part, you only need to be concerned with only a few parts of a nutritional label. The serving size and serving per container is what most people overlook. Before you consume anything, take a quick peek at the label and make sure the serving per container is 1. If it is not, reduce the consumption of that particular food or drink by how many servings are in the container. Calories are also an important aspect of the label you should keep in mind. Even though every calorie you consume will be different and will react in different ways in your body, you would need to pay attention to the calorie content of food. By using a kitchen scale, you can make sure that you know exactly the amount of calories and nutrients that you will be consuming. The last few parts of the nutritional label you should pay attention to is the three macronutrients: fats, carbs, and protein. Make sure you keep carbohydrates under 30 grams to make sure you control the hormone insulin. Fiber is also important as well. In order to figure out net carbs, you would need to subtract total carbohydrates from fiber. If you are doing the Ketogenic diet, then keeping net carbs as low as possible is crucial. Everything else on the label isn’t as important but you should keep them in mind.

 

 

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