Nutrition Labels: The Facts You Don't Already Know

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It's easy to read nutrition labels, but are you really looking at the right information? It's one thing to read a label, but it's another to understand one. Check out what food labels don't spell out for you.

Calories Are Not Created Equally A candy bar and a bowl of old fashioned oatmeal with berries have the same amount of calories. However, the difference between these two foods are how they are digested in the body. The oatmeal will be digested quickly, delivering essential nutrients to the body before being excreted. The candy bar on the other hand will take longer to digest. The sugars will cause the blood sugar to spike and the high levels of sugar and fat will be stored in the body. So which calories do you think are better for that beach bod?

Restricted Low Calorie Diets Are A Waste If you are a calorie counter stop trying to trick your body by eating low calorie foods or “diet” foods labeled sugar-free or fat-free. In fact, many times people who eat small, low calorie meals end up having a higher daily caloric intake because they are never fully satisfied. In the end your body will send hunger signals to brain telling you it is time to eat, you need those nutrients!

Serving Size Matters Look out for serving sizes! The nutrition label listed does not necessarily account for the entire product. For instance, take a 4 oz. box of movie theater size junior mints. The serving size is 16 pieces with 170 calories per serving. There are 3 servings a box meaning there are 510 calories in a box total. Serving size matters.

Low Fat Usually Means High Sugar Ever since the whole low-fat craze people fear fat like the plague. What they don’t know is that the fat in these products is just replaced by sugar. And what happens to refined sugar in the body? It is stored as fat. So rather than trying to outsmart yourself, opt for options that are naturally low in fat and come from natural sources like nuts, seeds, avocados and so forth.

How Much Sugar?!? Sugar is one of the only ingredients in the United States without a daily percent value. Why you ask? Because sugar is not a required nutrient for the body. For that reason the IOM (Institute of Medicine) does not place a recommended dietary allowance for sugar on food labels. However, they do have some “recommendations.” In 1992, the IOM recommended daily sugar intake was 10% of calories. Today they recommend a maximum level of 25%. That means that Americans are getting up to 25% of their daily calories from an ingredient that their body doesn’t even need to survive. Choose Your Carbs Wisely Like calories, not all carbs are created equal. Processed carbohydrates found in foods like breakfast cereals,pretzels, breads, cookies, cakes and other packaged foods are broken down into sugar upon entering the body. Do your body a favor and aim to eat energy sustaining carbohydrates coming from fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables and whole grains.

Sodium Overdose Like sugar, sodium seems to be lurking everywhere these days. The best way to keep your sodium levels at bay is to avoid buying packaged food and keeping an eye out for sodium levels. Foods with the highest amount of sodium include deli meats, cereal, veggie juice, canned soups, canned beans and vegetables, ketchup, soy sauce, flavor packets, frozen dinners, marinara sauce, tortillas, processed cheese and canned tuna. To cut down on sodium try making your own foods where you can visibly see how much salt you are adding to your food.

Fiber Rocks Fiber is an extremely important nutrient in food. It helps keep you full and your digestive track flowing. However, many people are fooled by the labels on their packaged breakfast bars and other foods claiming that they have 10 grams of fiber per serving! While these products may have this much fiber who is to say that this is natural fiber and not just a bunch of chemicals? All I’m going to say if you want fiber to do its job then eat real food that has pure, natural fiber. Excellent sources of fiber include chia seeds, flax seeds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.

Sources: + FDA + Health.com + Dietfacts.com + Foodpolitics.com + Everydayhealth.com