Ask Dani – Nutrition Label Novice

Dear Dani,

I’ve recently started to eat healthier in hopes of losing weight. There are so many foods that say low-fat, high fiber, no sugar added, etc., and I’ve bought those foods in hopes that will help me take off a few pounds. I know that I should be reading the nutrition label too, but I’m just not sure that I understand it all that well. Can you give me a quick breakdown of what everything means, so that I can make better choices? What should I look out for?

Thanks, Nutrition Label Novice

Dear Nutrition Label Novice,

Congratulations on deciding to eat healthier! Navigating a nutrition label looks hard, but once you know the basics it’s actually pretty easy. Take a look at this nutrition label:

Click to enlarge - (SHAMELESS PLUG: If you want to learn more about all of this, including my tried and true tips and tricks to losing weight and keeping it off in a sane, non calorie counting, non measuring way then join my 12-week weight control phone group starting at the end of this month. All you need is a phone. You ll get to the heart of why you gained the weight in the first place and then take baby-steps to create new helpful and better behaviors. Mention this blog and save 10%! Get a friend to join and you save another 10%, and they save 10% too!)

Now let’s break it down:
Serving Size: This means that the label information is based on 2 tortillas. If you were to have 4 tortillas you would have to double all the information on the label. So, before you buy anything check the serving size to see if it is a reasonable amount. Sometimes you might see a small amount of calories, but if you look at the serving you will see that it might also be a small amount of food. Calories can add up fast when you’re doubling and tripling serving sizes, so watch out for this.

Servings Per Container: This lets you know that there are 6 servings in the entire container. Which means, if the serving size is 2 tortillas and there are 6 servings in the container, then 12 tortillas come in the package. Sometimes you need to know how many servings are in the container, because as I mentioned above you might not always eat just one serving. For example, if these tortillas were really small and wouldn’t be enough to fill you up, you might need to have more than just 2, which means that you would have to double the calories, fat, carbs, protein, etc. to calculate how much you’ve really had.

Calories: This is the mount of calories in a food. To lose weight you’re going to want to cut back on your calories a bit, but make sure to never dip below 1200 per day, otherwise your metabolism will slow down, because your body will go into starvation mode to conserve itself. What’s more important though is where those calories are coming from, so let’s go a bit deeper…

Calories From Fat: This is how many of the calories in a given serving come from fat. The bigger the difference between the number of calories and the number of calories from fat, the better the food choice.

Total Fat: This is the amount of fat grams in a serving. Make sure that you are getting enough good fats into your diet, but still being careful about how much of it you’re consuming. If you’re trying to lose weight then aim for 30-45g of fat per day in your diet.

Saturated Fat and Trans Fats: Limit saturated fat as much as possible. They are the key culprits of high cholesterol heart disease. Trans fats are what’s produced when food manufacturers add hydrogen to an unsaturated fat to turn into a solid saturated fat, in order to increase a food’s shelf life (think of the words “partially hydrogenated” that you’ve seen on some ingredient labels). They’re even worse, so keep those to 0.

Cholesterol: I think we’ve all heard that high cholesterol is bad for you, so keep these to under 300mg a day.

Sodium: AKA salt. If you have high blood pressure or a tendency for high blood pressure then you definitely want to limit this. So, keep it low – 2400-3000mg or less per day.

Carbs: Ready for this… Eat these often! (Oh, how Dr. Atkins would be rolling around in his grave now.) They are the most important nutrient for things like cognition and energy. Without them your body cannot produce energy for your brain or muscles to function properly and instead will go to sources such as protein (aka muscle) to get it, which means that you might lose weight, but you will lose muscle too, which doesn’t make for a very pretty sight. And the loss of muscle will slow down your metabolism to boot. So eat your potatoes, bread, and pasta, but just make sure that they are the right carbs. Look for complex carbs, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain and high fiber sources.

Fiber: This is important and will guide you in the right types of carbs to eat. There’s soluble fiber and insoluble fiber and both are good for you.

Protein: Most people get more protein than they need, thinking that low-carb, high protein is the way to go if you want to lose weight. That’s not the case though. To figure out how much protein you need per day multiply your weight by .4536 and then multiply that by .5. For example, a 135lb. woman’s calculation would look like this: 135 x .4536 x .5 = 30.61. This means that a 135lb. woman should be getting 31g (I’m rounding up 30.61) of protein per day. Choose lean meats, such as fish and poultry, or beans, cheese, and nuts.

Vitamins and Minerals: Your goal is to get 100% of each for the day. In order to do this, you’ll likely need to eat a variety of foods.

Daily Values: For fats, saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium choose foods with a low daily value %. For carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, your goal is to get 100% of the daily value. Be aware that daily values are based on a person who needs 2,000 calories per day, so if you’re a woman and trying to lose weight, the food label won’t accurately predict how much of each nutrient you need.

So, there you have it, a food label deciphered. It’s good that you’re trying to be more mindful, because you mentioned before that you’re eating lots of low-fat, no sugar added, high fiber food (“diet” food). Just because it says “low-fat” on it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best choice for you. You have to take into account where all the calories are coming from and what the serving size is. It’s great that a Snackwells cookie may only have 75 calories in it, but are you really going to stop at just one? Most of the time these snacks have so much filler and added sugars, that you’re not really doing yourself a service by eating them. So be mindful of the nutrition label and where the calories are coming from so that you can make the best possible decision. Good luck!

Myth #2 – Low-Fat Food Are Healthy

When I was in 7th and 8th grade I went through a huge Snackwells phase. Remember those? I wanted to lose weight and thought that it was so awesome that a company made “good for you” cookies, cakes, and cracker. I could eat an entire box in one day. And when Entenmenn’s came out with their low-fat danish, I polished that baby right off. Oh, and NutriGrain bars, with their yummy fruit filling, gotta love those!

Low-fat foods may seem like the best option, but that’s not always true. Many of these foods contain lots of added sugars to make up for the loss of flavor, which means that lots of times these foods contain almost the same amount of calories (take a look at reduced fat peanut butter). Too much sugar forces your body to store it as fat, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do by eating these foods. You’re trying to look leaner not lumpier, right? Shockingly, even though they are lower in fat, these foods can still contain unhealthy saturated fats. And like myself, once upon a time, most people who eat these foods eat double the amount thinking that it’s “safe”, because after all, it’s low-fat, right?… Nope!

Make sure to read food labels and pay attention to serving sizes, calories, and added sugars. Not all low-fat foods are entirely bad for you, but you have to see what these foods are really made of. And you may even find that sometimes it’s worth having the full-fat version, because you will be more satisfied. Just make sure to stick to one portion!

7 Weight Loss Facts – True or False?

It seems like every magazine, news piece, newspaper, or guru is touting the best thing to watch your weight. Some of the stuff they say is true, but other things may be misleading. Not everything is always so cut and dry when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Take this quiz and see how much you know. Some things may be surprising!

1. If you want to stay slim you should eat 6 small meals a day instead of 3 big ones.

- FALSE It’s been the popular belief lately that 6 small meals are better than 3 larger meals, but this is actually not the case. Your body doesn’t know if you’re feeding it 3 times a day or 6, but what it does know is how many calories it’s getting and whether those calories are the good kind or the bad. If you prefer bigger meals, as opposed to snack-like meals it’s ok to have a larger breakfast, lunch, and dinner as long as it’s going to hold you over until the next meal. A good way to ensure that is to make sure that your plate is balanced with lean proteins, such as fish, tofu, chicken, or turkey, as well as a complex starch, such as brown rice or quinoa, and lots of veggies.

2. You shouldn’t eat anything past 8pm.

- FALSE Now that’s just plain silly. When you feel hungry that’s your body signaling to you that it needs to be fed. Our bodies need at the very least 1200 calories if you’re a girl and 1500 calories if you’re a guy per day in order to function properly. So, if you didn’t eat enough for some reason during the day your body will try to make up for it. And just as I said above, your body doesn’t know what time of day it is either. It just knows that it’s lacking in calories and needs it. Now, that’s not to say that you can give yourself permission to have an entire meal, but use common sense and think whether you’re really physically hungry or if it’s just your brain wandering to the thought of food. And just to note, sometimes you have eaten enough during the day, but for whatever reason you might just simply want something, so in that case have a snack, but just make sure that it’s under 100 calories.

3. In order to see any benefits from a workout you have to work out for at least 30-40 consecutive minutes.

- FALSE Weight loss is all about calories in vs. calories out, so it really doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it all at once or at separate times throughout the day. The best thing is to do what works for you. For so many people the idea of going to a gym for 40 minutes is like a death sentence, so I hereby give you permission to not go. The idea of “traditional exercise” is mind-boggling to me, because we’ve come to understand “traditional” as weight lifting and running on a treadmill at the gym, but in reality traditional exercise is plowing the field and walking 3 miles to your neighbor’s house. We have to change our mind sets and just become more active. Take a walk during your lunch break, take the subway stairs instead of the escalator, carry a basket in the supermarket instead of using a shopping cart, squeeze in some squats while you’re brushing your teeth, take your dog for a long walk instead of the usual around the block routine (he’ll thank you for it!), etc.

4. Red meat is bad for you because it’s high in fat.

- FALSE High fat meats are what’s bad for you, but you can get lean, even extra lean cuts of meat or ground beef with as little as 5% fat. What’s even better is that it contains important vitamins or minerals, including iron, which is especially important for women. Just make sure it’s lean or extra lean. Filet Mignon is a good example of a lean steak.

5. Low fat or fat-free foods will help you lose weight.

- FALSE In actuality, many of these foods are higher in calories due to added sugars and thickeners that are used to boost flavor. Plus, some people mistakenly think that these foods are better for you and end up eating too much. Always compare the calorie content to regular foods when thinking about buying a low-fat or fat free food. You might see that you’re not really saving that much. The real deal will probably be way more satisfying too. Just make sure to stick to the serving size.

6. Resistance training will boost your metabolism.

- TRUE Muscle burns more calories per minute than fat, which means that you’ll burn more calories while at rest. Plus, it will strengthen your bones preventing you from getting osteoporosis later in life. If you want to see the pay off though, you’re going to have to combine it with cardio exercise as well in order to burn the fat covering the muscles.

7. Salad is the best option when dining out.

- FALSE Choosing salad seems like the obvious choice, but many times it’s higher in calories due to all the add-ons, such as fried noodles, nuts, cheese, dressing, croutons, etc. While cheese and nuts contain a lot of nutrients, they can easily pack on the calories. Make sure to browse the menu carefully, there may be a better option. If you do choose the salad though, make sure to add lean meats or fish, limit the amount of nuts, and use either a low-fat dressing or put the full fat dressing on the side.