How to Read a Food Label
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
Written by Khaya Msikinya
Whether you're embarking on a general health and wellness, weight loss, muscle gain, or any other sort of journey, there will be many twists and turns to survive and many skills to master. In order to have a successful journey for your goals, you must develop certain habits that will ultimately allow you to reach the promised land. If you think finding the will to force yourself to exercise 3-5 times a week is the hardest battle you’ll face, think again. Anyone who has made a miraculous transformation can tell you that they all learned the same one skill; changing the way they eat and perceive food. Some would describe the process of developing this habit as harder than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with no training, and the truth is... that’s exactly what it’s like.
I could be the guy that tells you, "Take this pill, drink that shake, put a butterfly sticker on your stomach and you’ll lose all the weight you want and be lean in 3 weeks," but that’s just not me. I’m here to tell you that it’s hard! It starts off easy, as does any journey, but once you begin to climb that mountain, starting around the third day, you’ll hear little voices urging you to give up. Your co-worker's lunch begins to smell like everything you’ve ever wanted out of life, and that fast food smell begins to lure you like the sounds of the pied piper. Welcome, this is when your journey officially begins. The only confidence I can inspire is that there are plenty of people that have been in your shoes and climbed this mountain. Were they heroes? No, they just dug in when the going got tough and got tougher. When they did fall, they got right back on their feet, tied their climbing shoes and carried on going (why yes, I'm still referring to my Mount Kilimanjaro metaphor).
If you're still reading, you know it’s going to be a tough journey and in that case, you’re ready to begin. One of the main nutrition-related skills you'll need to learn is how to differentiate between what foods are appropriate vs. not appropriate for your goals. When buying groceries, reading a food label can be tedious. What is whole wheat? What is whole grain? Why didn’t they teach us how to do this in school, instead of teaching us algebra and trigonometry?! Is solving for x going to get me these gains?! Here's a handy list I've put together to break it down.
First things first, we have to look at the “Calories” on the food label. Calories is always first in line, because it is important to know how many calories you will be consuming from this item.
Every goal has a recommended daily caloric target. If you prefer not to know about calories, I’ve got a few questions for you. Would you go bungee jumping without a cord? Too extreme, okay-- would you kiss your crush with morning breath? What I’m getting at is, be prepared. You have a goal; now set yourself up for success and brush your teeth.
Know the calorie deficit or surplus you need to reach your goals. This is where Weighted Plate trainers/nutrition coaches can help.
Some brands are tricky, and will put a minimized number for their “Calories”, but beware, it comes down to how much the brand constitutes as a serving which dictates the numbers of calories displayed.
When working out the “Calories”, ensure you have taken the “Serving Size” into account. Look at your macronutrient breakdown. Macronutrients are your Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Read our previous blog post here on macronutrients and how to better understand them.
You will find “Fiber” under this category.
Fiber doesn’t digest so you can remove it from the total count of total Carbs.
“Fiber” helps you feel full, giving you the feeling of satisfaction after a meal. Try having at least 5g’s of fiber with each meal.
25g’s + of “Fiber” daily is generally a good target.
“Sugars” also fall under the Carb category
Are already included in the “Carbohydrates” count
Are usually disguised as “high fructose corn syrup”, “dextrose”, “sucrose”, “maltose”, and about 57 other fun names certain brands have come up with to disguise the sugar.
Products below 5g-9g in “Sugars” are better options, and lead to foods being lower in calories.
Broken up into “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat”
These are both bad fats, try limiting these fats in your diet.
Good fats are “Monounsaturated fatty acids”, “Polyunsaturated fatty acids”, and “Omega-3 fatty acids”
No more than 200mg’s per day
Less processed foods have lower “Sodium” levels.
Try restrict to 2000mg per day.
Now that you know how to read labels, take a look at our previous blogs to further help you along your journey.