Get To Know Your Nutrition Facts
Before I started taking care of my health, there was one label that I was concerned with when trying to decide to buy food: the price tag. Sure, we all want to save a buck, but I was overlooking the most important label of all: the Nutritional Facts.
Reading nutritional facts label is not very tricky and should be common knowledge, so I won't spend too much time on describing what you need to look out for. If you want to explore nutritional facts in more detail, please visit this page from The Food and Drug Administration. To illustrate how to read a nutritional label, we are going to look at the nutritional facts for a potato, if your name is Dan Quayle, you may refer to it as a "potatoe."
The first thing you want to look at is the serving size, the number of servings, and the number of calories per serving. This is easy to do using our example. The serving size is one potato for a total of 100 calories. Simple! But sometimes, you need to apply a little thought here. For instance, back before I was eating healthy I would sometimes eat processed food. One of my favorite things to eat was turkey kielbasa. At first glance, I saw that the nutritional label said that each serving had 90 calories. I thought, hey, that's pretty good! Then I noticed that the amount of servings in the package was seven. Not in my kitchen! In my kitchen, a package of kielbasa has two servings, not seven! So, I was actually eating three and a half servings. Therefore, I had to multiply the calories per serving by the amount of servings that I would eat in a meal to determine how many calories that the turkey kielbasa would add to that meal. Ninety calories times 3.5 servings equals 315 calories. That made more sense. By the way, to get a better picture of the nutrients you are consuming, you should also multiply the number of servings you are eating by the percentage of daily values stated on the nutrition label.
The next thing you want to look at is the fat, cholesterol, and sodium. You should try to minimize these. I should point out that you do need some fat in your diet, and some kinds of fats are better than other. In short, try to minimize your intake of saturated fats and avoid trans fat altogether. For a closer look at good fats versus bad fats, please read Good Fats, Bad Fats, You Know I've Had My Share.
After that, have a look at potassium, and vitamins. The potassium will usually be listed right under the fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and the vitamins will be listed in the footer of the label. I have put them together in this illustration to tell you that you should get a lot of these in your diet. Be sure to get plenty of potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C in your diet. Get as much of these that you can when comparing it to the amount of calories you are eating. These nutrients make you healthier and help to prevent disease.
If you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight after losing, you want to keep your carbohydrate intake low, but the types of carbohydrates and the sources of those carbohydrates is also something to consider. Fiber and sugars are both types of carbohydrates. You want to get plenty of fiber while minimizing your intake of sugar. Fiber from food sources like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains help digestion and help to reduce heart disease.
Listed towards the bottom of the nutritional facts label is protein, which is actually one of the first things I look at after checking out the calories and fat content. Protein builds and repair tissues, so it is especially important when working out regularly. Your body also uses protein to make hormones, enzymes, and other body chemicals. It is an important building block of muscles, bones, cartilage, skin and blood. You want to be sure to get plenty of protein from food sources that are low in calories and low in fat.
It is important to take in the nutritional facts as a whole, maximizing the nutrients that are good for you while minimizing those that are bad. Keeping the serving size in mind, look for low calories/low fat/low sodium/low carbohydrates/high protein and be sure to get your share of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Looking at the nutritional facts for a potato, we can surmise that a potato offers some, but not a lot of protein, while being fat free and relatively low in calories. It's a great source of potassium, vitamin C, iron, and fiber, but has no vitamin A, so you will want to make it a point to get your vitamin A in other foods. It's also fairly high in overall carbohydrates, so it's not the sort of thing that you would want to make a regular part of your diet if trying to lose weight. Overall, it is not a bad food for you in moderation, assuming you don't make it worse by frying it or adding things like salt, butter, and sour cream. (I know! I'm no fun)
Now that I have learned what to look for, I have become an avid reader of nutritional labels. They may not be as intellectually stimulating as a fine novel, but being aware of what you are putting into your body may be just as important as what you put into your head.