For most of my life I’ve largely ignored the labels on the food I eat. I was more concerned about the taste, the flavor, and the price. Well, I once paid the price: to the tune of being over 30 pounds overweight and on the verge of Type 2 Diabetes. A key to my successful weight loss was to finally understand all that mumbo jumbo that appears on the labels of every food we buy and eat. These three secrets will explain to you how to quickly and easily glance at the nutrition facts and understand the true impact of what it means.
Secret #1: It’s all about the Serving Size
As Americans, I think we all overestimate the size of a serving. On some of my favorite products like chips, cookies and even cereal, I was astounded by what the manufacturer calls a serving. 5 chips, 3 cookies, 6 ounces of cereal!
I was eating at least 3-4 servings when I would typically snack. Calculate how many servings you actually eat, and multiply that by how much fat/sugar/sodium you see listed on the label to get the true value. Doing this helped me cut down the number of servings I ate to limit the amounts of sugar and fat I ate at one time.
Secret #2: What the % Daily Value really means
The way the FDA came up with the the % Daily Value of many nutrients is based on scientific tests for preventing specific diseases. For example, if you don’t eat enough vitamin C, you will get scurvy. But if you eat a minimum amount of vitamin C, you will not get scurvy. What this means, is the % Daily Value is really an estimate of how much of a nutrient you need, at minimum, to prevent various diseases.
The % Daily Value is one number recommended for all children and adults age 4 or older, and for a dietary intake of 2,000 calories per day. This means you cannot simply rely on this number, as one size foes not fit all: some people require less than 2,000 calories a day, some more. The best thing the % Daily Value is good for is comparing the values between different foods. But be sure to keep in mind Secret #1.
For example: if Cookie A has 5g of fat per serving and the serving size is 50g, and Cookie B has 3g of fat per serving but the serving size is 25g, the Cookie A is actually lower in fat. Measure how much fat per gram of cookie there is to get the true value (5g fat for 50g of Cookie A, but 6g of fat for 50g of Cookie B).
Secret #3: 0g of Trans Fat Does Not Really Mean 0g
This was the most surprising secret when I first learned it! FDA guidelines allow food manufacturers to label food as “0g of trans fat” as long as it contains less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving. If you add up multiple servings of 0.49g of trans fat over a whole day, you could actually be eating a lot more trans fat than you thought.
How do you tell if there’s trans fat then? Luckily, by studying the list of ingredients, you can determine if there’s any trans fat. If it lists any kind of “partially hydrogenated” ingredients or “shortening,” then you’ve found trans fat.
Now armed with these three secrets about food labels and nutrition facts, you are empowered to make healthier decisions and not be fooled by the food manufacturers, nor the FDA any longer.