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Facts on Reading Food Labels

Reading food labels properly is the first step toward including quality food products in your diet.  It’s easy to overlook all the nutrition facts as a whole when buying foods.  We tend to focus on that ‘one’ number representing carbohydrates, fats and protein, but there’s much more to it than this.

First off, let’s get a few basic facts straight.  How many calories per gram of each macro-nutrient?  Fats contain 9 calories per gram, carbohydrates 4, and fats 4 calories.  Just think of the old Porsche 944 to remember your breakdown.  Now you know how many total calories make up carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

With this information we need to then figure out how many calories per serving.  Many products will advertise a favorable amount of calories per serving.  Take a 16 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola for instance.  Yes, there may be only 100 calories in one serving, but it’s easier than you think to gulp down more than 8 ounces at once.  Realistically think instead how many calories you’re taking in from 12 or 16 ounces.  Tip for the day – don’t skip the first line.

In the soda example all the calories come from carbohydrates (100 calories).  Granted, if 10 of those 25 grams of carbohydrates were fiber, this wouldn’t be as bad.   The calories  would be absorbed at a slower rate and better promote stomach emptying.   However, these 25 grams are all simple sugars.  What does this mean?  Just the opposite effect of fiber – quick absorption, insulin spike, and much stored as fat.  Not a good choice if you’re looking to keep ‘bad’ weight off.

How about how many products advertise they are ‘fat free’ on the front cover?  Is this a good thing?  Take a closer look and determine what type of fats.  Saturated fats should be used in moderation, depositing within cells, organs and arteries to raise blood cholesterol levels.

Unsaturated fats have many critical roles, such as maintaining body temperature, protecting body tissues and organs as well as transporting the four fat-soluble vitamins: A,D, E and K.  Besides, excess consumption of carbs and protein out of fear of fat will result in excess body fat anyway, defeating your original goal.

Other important notes: be conscious of sodium intake, especially if your water intake is inadequate.  Vitamins and minerals listed are critical as well, and will gauge how nutrient dense a product is.  The bigger the numbers here, the greater the chances you have no big ‘gaps’ in your diet.

Finally is the ingredients list.  There may be a ton of ingredients you can’t even pronounce in a big paragraph.  Limit ingredients to five or less, and take note of the order they’re listed.  When sugar is the second thing listed after water, chances are pretty good that’s just what you’re taking in.

In general, fat should account for 20-35% of our daily caloric intake with only 10% coming from saturated fats.  Carbohydrates should be between 45-65% and protein 10-35%.  These numbers vary based on activity levels, personal goals and training intensity.  Keep these percentages in the back of your mind when reading nutrition labels.  For more information on personalized nutrition plans for yourself, e-mail Tim at tim@getats.com.v

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