The Skinny on Nutrition Labels

For today’s Foodie Friday post, please welcome guest columnists Michael & Michelle Harris, authors of the blog 40SomethingFitness and 40PlusFitness on Google+. I met Michael and Michelle on Google+ and knew immediately they’d be one of my go-to sources of information on nutrition. 

Michael & Michelle started 40SomethingFitness as an outreach to help people who are confused or just plain frustrated about the information out there around fitness and nutrition. They want to mobilize their friends, family, and complete strangers to take control of their own bodies as a foundation to a healthy life. And they’re not selling anything – no shakes; no gimmicks – they’re simply offering real, helpful information.

And today, they offer us information on reading nutrition labels!

Michael Harris photo

The Skinny on Nutrition Labels
Here’s one we all take for granted. You pick up the box, flip it on its side and muse: 
– 250 calories, okay
– 5% daily value of fat (whoa – that leaves me, like 95 more percent!)
– Fiber – hey, fiber’s good, right?

Aaaand, that’s about it. Most of us make the choice right then and there whether a food is good or bad. In fact, we’ve probably had our suspicions before we even turned it around. I mean, there are all those helpful messages like “naturally fat free” and “made with 100% fruit.” They’re not allowed to lie, ’cause – truth in advertising, right? While food manufacturers may not be able to flat out lie, they sure can fudge the truth more than a little.

So how do you make the most of your food choices? How do you make those labels work for you? Here are five quick tips. 
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1. Skip the marketing labels. That “naturally fat free” – that was a label on a 5lb bag of sugar. Made “with” 100% of something does NOT mean made exclusively “of” something. Just that it has a little of that “100%” stuff in it. 

2. Check the serving size and do the math. Less healthy foods are often listed at extremely low serving sizes to make the nutrition label less scary. If you’re planning on eating four of the suggested servings, take that into account.

3. How many of those calories come from protein, fat, and carbs? These are your macronutrients. They are what make a food nutritionally dense or empty calories. Take the grams of protein and multiply by four. Take the grams of fat and multiply by 9. Now multiply the grams of carbs by four. These are the number of calories for each macronutrient. Is that “healthy” dinner 15% protein, 20% fat, and 65% carbs? Put it back on the shelf…

4. “Good” carbs or “bad”? Carbohydrates are either simple, complex, or dietary fiber (which you can’t digest). The sugars label under carbs tells you how many of the carb grams (remember, four calories per gram) are simple sugars. Is the food you’re eating mostly simple sugar? Or are they the less aggressive complex carbohydrates? Since fiber can’t be digested, there are no calories associated with that. The lower the ratio of sugars to overall carbs, the better off you are.

5. Skip to the ingredients. How many are there? How many can you actually read? Does the word “hydrogenated” appear anywhere in the list? This is an indicator of trans fats from artificially manipulated oils. As a rule, the fewer ingredients, the better. And if you can’t understand what they are, odds are your body can’t either.

Armed with these few simple tips, you can make your food shopping work for you. And, if you have an iPhone, try the “Fooducate” app. It has a bar code reader that will scan a food item and give you a letter grade (A-F) of food quality. Did you pass?

Get more great information from Michael & Michelle at their blog, 40SomethingFitness, and on Google+.

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