In a perfect world, reading nutrition labels would be an unnecessary skill. We’d have unlimited time and resources to grow, raise, purchase and prepare whole, unprocessed foods for ourselves and our families. Foods that don’t require nutrition labels or ingredient lists.
In reality, time and money are sometimes short and prepackaged products occasionally end up coming home from the grocery store with us.
While processed foods are typically not the best choices for weight or fat loss, you can minimize their damage on your diet by learning a few tips for reading nutrition labels!
Reading nutrition labels for fat loss
1. Don’t just look at calories. Pay attention to serving size as well. Integrating the two will give you a sense of how calorically dense a product is. When the ratio of calories to serving size is large (i.e., a lot of calories for only a bite or two), you may find yourself eating a larger portion, and hence more calories, than you planned on.
2. Scan for added sugar. Have a look at the total grams of sugar per serving. Regardless of where it comes from, sugar has an impact on your blood sugar levels and consequently, the hormones that regulate fat storage. Don’t stop at the nutrition label. Check the ingredient list for other forms of sugar and fake sugars, including (but not limited to) glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, cane sugar, beet sugar, sucralose, aspartame, liquid and alcohol sugars, brown sugar and molasses. How many can you find in the ingredient list below? Need some extra tips for reducing your sugar consumption?)
3. Feel fuller with fiber. Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber. While whole grain products are fiber rich, they’re also quite high in sugar, thereby blunting the insulin response and encouraging fat storage. I aim for a minimum of 30 g of dietary fiber each and every day.
4. Take a pass on the salt. Sodium causes the body to retain excess water and interrupts nervous system function, thereby reducing the body’s ability to shed fat. It’s also implicated in heart disease and stroke. Look for products that have less than 200 mg per serving. Resist the temptation to add an extra dash or two at dinner.
5. Don’t assume that low fat is better. For many years, dietary fat was thought to be the primary contributor to obesity. As a result, many food manufacturers rushed to create ‘low fat’, ‘fat free’ and ‘lite’ versions of their products. However, in order for those products to remain palatable to consumers (fat is what gives much of food it’s taste), extra sugars (real and fake) were added to the formula. Turns out that dietary fat actually aids in weight loss, in particular when the fats consumed are monounsaturated (for example avocado, macadamia and hazelnuts, olive oil). Be wary of trading fat for sugar when selecting lower fat options…
6. Unpronounceable ingredients? Leave it on the shelf! All of my children learned this tip around the time they learned to read. Grocery shopping trips became so much easier when all I had to say when asked the question “Can we buy this?” was “Can you read me the ingredient list?” They knew that if it was unpronounceable them, we’d be leaving it on the shelf! (Of course, now that they’re older and become avid readers, this tip doesn’t work quite as well…)
Do you regularly read nutrition labels?
What are some things you look for when deciding whether to purchase prepackaged foods?
Disclaimer: I am a Certified Personal Trainer not a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist. The tips above are merely suggestions that I use myself and share with interested clients. For an individualized meal plan that addresses YOUR dietary needs and goals, please see a nutrition professional.