Hello everybody, I’m Kris Stokes from Custom Fitness and I am YOUR personal trainer in Amarillo, Texas.  Today we are going to jump into the topic of demystifying your food labels.

This basic discussion will be easy enough to begin implementing into your life starting today.  If you would like more information about this topic or would like a tour of a grocery store to learn more about good for your products, give us a call: 806-322-3188.

In order to have good energy and be healthy, you have to first understand what you are putting into your body. There are two types of food whole foods (not to be confused with the grocery chain) and food products. The difference between the two is really easy to recognize: whole foods do not have a food label whereas food products do.

The category of whole foods will include things like strawberries, cucumbers, and apples, etc. They have come from nature and are in their own, natural, wrapper. You’ll typically find whole foods in the produce section of your grocery store.

Food products are food that have been processed and engineered to be more convenient. They will last a long time in the shelves — anybody think of Twinkies? Food products also have enhanced flavorings and extra sugar to make you want to eat more. This will cause people to spend more on these products and give our money away to the companies that are selling them. Sounds great doesn’t it? This doesn’t mean that they are good for you; even despite the enticing packaging with words like “healthy” and “fat-free”.  

When you’re ready to make changes within your lifestyle to be healthier, you really need to be smart about what you decide to eat. Understanding the basics about food labels puts you in charge of making smart decisions about what you’re putting in your body.

Food labels all look pretty much the same. The FDA has certain label requirements that each company using them must follow. This includes the layout of the label, the font size, the order of the macros, etc. You’ll see things like a percentage daily value amounts, percentage of vitamins, fats, fibers, and more. Most people will pick up a food product and immediately look for how much sugar, sodium, fat or otherwise the product contains in percent form. The problem with that approach is that the percentage is based on a serving size for a daily value of a 2,000 calorie a day diet. This means the numbers you see should not be your make-or-break choice for purchasing the product.  Instead, you should be looking at the ingredients list that is often found below the nutrition label grid.

Go ahead and pull a food product out of your pantry and read the ingredients. If there is any form of sugar in the first 5 ingredients, remember there are more than 30 names for sugar, strongly consider if you need this product. If there’s any form of sugar in the first three, put it down and walk away. Things to watch out for are things like high fructose corn syrup – definitely get rid of it because it actually has no nutritional value for you and it’s really harmful to your body; anything ending  in -ose (glucose, fructose, sucrose…) is a sugar. Dried fruits, brown rice syrup, honey, molasses, etc. Your body doesn’t need these forms of sugar. The sugars your body WILL use are from natural sources like fruit and only if they are consumed in moderation.

Go ahead and read the rest of the ingredients on the box, do you know what they all are? If you find yourself stumbling over what an ingredient is or if you can’t pronounce the name, there’s really a good chance that item is an additive to preserve and enhance the flavor of the product.  Some additives are okay while others can be detrimental.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this, give us a call our Amarillo personal trainers are ready to help explain this in regards to your diet.

Now look at the top of the food label where it says “Serving Size”.  A serving size is only talking about one serving of that product. Looking at the Servings per Container is going to tell you a lot more.  For example, a regular package of Double Stuf Oreos has a serving size of 2 cookies.  The amount of servings per container is 16.   Now how many servings do you typically eat in one sitting?  I know many people who struggle to only eat 2 cookies.  Yes, it still counts if you sneak cookies when people aren’t looking.

Small packages sometimes contain two or more servings — especially fruit juices. If that’s the case please take a moment to ask yourself, “will I actually be satisfied if I eat only one serving from this package?” “Will I need to eat all or multiple servings from the package to feel satisfied?” If you don’t feel that one serving will be what you need or your willpower isn’t yet strong enough to put the package down, consider putting it back and choosing a different food option you can follow the recommended serving size.

Obviously the more you eat serving-wise the more calories you take in. Not to get off on too much of a tangent here, but I feel we need to discuss what calories actually are.  In America calories the word, calories, has become like an obscenity.  It brings to mind images of obesity, jiggly thighs, chubby arms, and plates full of greasy food. Conversely, other imagine diets of full restrictions, scrawny individuals eating a mere lettuce leaf for a meal then spend hours on the treadmill or the elliptical covered in sweat. Right?

Reality shock, the word calories is actually a metric of energy. We’ve been over this before if you have been watching our videos. Everything has has energy and calories or, as they are technically called, kCals. This is what we use to measure how much energy any one thing has  or what we use to describe how much energy is being used. So, calories themselves are not a bad thing. It is the overconsumption of calories in food products that are generating these mental images.  

Now we understand that we can evaluate the calories on the label–I’m hoping you’re nodding your head. If you want to evaluate the calories in the entire container, you multiply the calories per serving by the servings per container. Example: if there are two servings per container and there’s 300 calories per serving then the container has 600 calories total.

Look at the calories from fat. Certain oils and fats are helpful to your health, but not all.  Let’s break this down.    

  1. Healthy oils and fat come from plants, seeds, and fish. Those provide a positive benefit to your body.
  2. Less healthy oils and fat, come from animals such as saturated fats. Those are okay in moderation.
  3. Not healthy is man-made oils and fats like partially hydrogenated trans fats. Those you absolutely do not want, ever, in your diet. Eliminate food products containing those if at all possible.

Let’s run some numbers. Say that the calories number is 300 and the calories from fat number is 200.  That means over half the calories you are consuming are fat. Our goal when eating a

healthy balanced diet, is to keep the fat number less than a third of the number of total calories. All partially hydrogenated or trans fat should be completely eradicated from our diets. Trans fat number MUST be zero.  Sodium is salt and occurs naturally in many foods. The recommended amount of sodium is less than 2,400 mg per day.  Actually your body only requires about 500 mg per day for normal function.  That’s a HUGE difference. Watch out for sodium because it’s easy to consume way more than even the recommended amount in a day (I’m looking at you, pizza).  Salt can sneak into your diet especially if you’re eating food products where they’ve been enhanced with flavor.

Next, look at dietary fiber. Your goal is to find products with 3 grams or more for every 100 gram serving. Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive tract and helps to balance blood sugar. Fiber comes from plants; you’ll find it in whole foods  like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains beans.  The recommended intake of fiber is 25 grams per day. You are going to have to eat a whole lot of whole foods to reach 25 grams per day.  Food products may taste good, but don’t have much fiber.  

There’s a lot more to learn about food labels, but the the important things are as easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Look to the ingredients list first. Make sure that there is no sugar in the first three ingredients.
  2. Make sure that the ingredients list doesn’t have any partially hydrogenated or trans fats. Ever.
  3. Make sure that they’re at least 3 grams of fiber for every 100 calories per serving.

Remember that there is a big difference between whole foods- no label necessary, and food products where a label is required. If you want to make a difference in your health and your family’s health, read the labels at the store. It may be too late once those groceries have made it home with you — we tend to eat what’s available. If you follow the 3 steps above you’ll be well on your way to feeling great, with lots of energy, and you won’t have to stress out about the food you put on your plate and into your body. Go ahead and educate your friends and family about choosing healthier foods.They may have never seen past the percentages on a food label.  If you would like more help about being a choosey grocery shopper, as always, my team and I are glad to support anyone who is ready to implement some healthier food and exercise strategies into their lives. You can reach us at the studio here in Amarillo Texas at 806-322-3188 or info@customfitness.biz.  At Custom Fitness, we are YOUR personal trainers in Amarillo.  Thanks everybody. Happy grocery shopping!