When browsing the fresh food aisles at your local grocery store, it can be easy to find yourself becoming overwhelmed by the huge selection of foods and beverages currently on offer.
In terms of our health and fitness, however, anybody looking to improve their overall well-being, as well as their physique in the process, is going to have to ensure that they consume the right foods at the right times, and that is where things get tricky.
We all eat healthily for different reasons, and while some people eat clean for health reasons alone, there are others who eat clean because they’re trying to build muscle, or burn fat, or perhaps even a combination of both. If you’re trying to improve your health, drop a few pounds, or build some muscle, however, choosing the right foods and beverages can be incredibly difficult.
Sure, you get personal trainers, health officials, and gym regulars who are very knowledgeable when it comes to buying healthy foods, but for newbies and those who are inexperienced, finding and choosing healthy foods can be incredibly tough. For anybody wondering how to read a food label, for example, these labels are arguably your secret to success, providing that you understand them and know how to read them correctly.
If you’re looking to take your diet to the next level, here’s a look at a few tips and tricks based upon how to read a food label.
Read the Serving Size
Say for example, you purchased a tray of chicken breasts that weighed 1000g in total. Obviously per serving, you wouldn’t eat the entire tray of chicken breasts, you would instead eat just one or two. Now, say that each chicken breast weighed 200g, if a serving was 400g, it would be two chicken breasts.
When you read the nutrition info i.e the calories and the protein contents, just make sure that you’re reading the amounts for each serving size, instead of for the whole pack, or instead of simply per 100g.
It may sound simple enough, but there are people out there that have messed their diets up because, when reading the nutritional info, they weren’t reading the nutritional info per serving, and were instead reading per 100g.
Know the Nutritional Facts Table
The nutrition facts table is arguably the most important part of the food label that you’ll ever need to look at, so make sure you know it and understand it properly. Basically, this table will provide an easy to understand breakdown of all of the various nutrients found within the food or drink item that you’re purchasing. For example, you will find info on fat contents, of saturated fat content, of carbohydrate contents, of sugar contents, of protein, of calories, of salt, and much more besides.
The table will not only tell you how many grams of each ingredient there is per 100g, and per serving, but it will also provide you with a percentage number of your recommended daily intake. For example, if a food item contains 50% of your recommended daily intake of salt for the day, 2 servings would take you to your maximum, so ideally after that, you shouldn’t consume any more salt.
There is a lot of info to read and understand, but the more you read, the easier it will be to follow.
Calories are arguably the most important aspect of weight loss, or in the case of bodybuilders, weight gain, so understanding them is vital. Calories are a unit of energy measurement found in food items, and different macronutrients have different amounts. Carbohydrates and proteins, for example, provide 4 calories per gram, whereas fats provide 9 calories per gram.
To lose weight, you need to be in some form of calorie deficit, which means that, if your body needs 2000 calories for maintenance, consuming 1800 calories per day would put you in a deficit of 200 calories, which, at the end of the week, would result in a healthy and sustainable weight loss.
On the flipside, if you’re in a calorie surplus, you will gain weight, and yes, that includes fat and muscle. To build muscle, you need to be in a surplus, but the amounts you are in will depend on how wary you are of increasing your body fat percentages.
The food labels will tell you how many calories are in each food/drink item you’re purchasing, how many are in each serving, and how many are in each 100g.
Be Careful of Words Like “Reduced Fat”
For people trying to lose weight, whenever they see food items on the shelves with labels including words such as “reduced fat” they automatically assume that they’re diet-friendly. In reality, reduced fat does not necessarily mean low fat, and it does not necessarily mean low calories either.
For example, some foods, to compensate for the lack of flavour due to the reduction in fat, will include sugars or additives that are naturally high in calories, meaning that, although the fat content is lower, the food itself will still be very high in calories, making it very tough to lose weight.
Be Wary of “Diet” Foods and Drinks
Just because a food or drink has the word “diet” on the label, that does not necessarily make it healthy or beneficial for you.
Diet sodas, for example, are incredibly bad for you, and truthfully, there is nothing diet-friendly about them. Sure, they don’t contain sugar, but there are plenty of other foods and drinks that don’t contain sugar, and you don’t see companies advertising them as being diet-friendly.
In reality, to compensate for the lack of sugar, artificial chemical sweeteners such as aspartame, will often be used instead, which have been heavily linked to cancer, to dementia, to poor health, and various other ailments.
If you want a sugar-free beverage, drink fresh mineral water instead, as diet sodas are incredibly bad for you. The same goes for diet foods as well.
Be Wary of Low-Fat Foods
Nowadays, you can purchase low-fat versions of virtually every food item you can think of, but remember, just because something is low in fat, that does not mean that it is healthy or good for you.
With many low-fat foods, again, to compensate for the missing fat, the foods will be packed full of salt, sugar, chemical sweeteners, and other artificial flavorings and additives, including MSG, which is Mono-Sodium Glutamate. This is an ingredient marketed as a flavor enhancer, yet it is actually tasteless. It instead interferes with the brain and convinces you that you’re hungry and you want more, and can lead to addiction.
Many processed foods and fast foods contain MSG, and other similar additives, which are actually far, far unhealthier than a little natural fat.
Use the 5/15 Trick
If you’re in a hurry, or if you’re simply struggling to understand what constitutes as being a little, and what constitutes as being a lot, try using the 5/15 trick.
After each item listed on the food nutritional label, you will be given a percentage number, which is based on your recommended daily intake. If something contains 5% or less of something, it is a little amount and so is low, whereas if something contains 15% or more, it is higher and is a lot.
Trans fats, for example, are very, very bad for us, so if something contains 15 – 20% trans fats, we know that, per serving, there are a lot of trans fats. If, however, something contains 2 – 3% trans fats per serving, this is a low amount.