That little box on the back of our favourite foods contains a lot of useful information. If you aren’t sure what to look for, however, it can be overwhelming and become a blur of numbers.
Below we will be keeping it simple with four steps to help you pick the best foods for your body and feel like a nutrition expert.
Step 1: Calories Per Serving
First and foremost, look at how many calories are in a single serving size. At the foundation of weight gain or fat loss is calories in vs. calories out. If want to gain weight, eat more calories than your body needs. If you want to lose weight, eat less calories than your body needs.
Yes, there are a lot of other incredibly important factors that can come into play, like macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and hydration; however, if you aren’t eating the right number of calories for your goals you will struggle to reach them.
Example: Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream has 260 calories per serving.
Step 2: Check the Serving Size
Next, look at the serving size. This is how big each serving is. It could be measured in 4 cups, 6 sprays, or a whole container. Each product will be different.
Example: This pint of ice cream has a serving size of ½ cup.
Step 3: Calculate Total Calories
Some products are kind enough to tell you how many servings are in the whole container, but more often you will need to do the math yourself. To do this, check the front of the packaging for total grams, mL, etc. and determine how many servings are in one container.
Example: A full pint of this ice cream has a total of 4 servings, which is 1040 calories.
Step 4: Protein
Protein is one of the best fat burners out there. Salmon, eggs, chicken, shrimp, beef, tofu, milk, etc. If it’s full of lean protein, you’re helping your body burn fat and gain lean muscle. This step is important if you are deciding between two products of the same caloric value and serving size. Always pick the one with more protein.
Example: There is 5 g of protein per ½ cup serving.
Step 5: The Ingredient List
The ingredient list tells you exactly what is in the product and it’s always a good idea to dig a little deeper into the food you are eating.
For example, the label on a salad dressing may say “made with olive oil”, but in checking the ingredient list you will find that they may have used a combination of olive, canola, sunflower, and vegetable oil. The label isn’t wrong, but it also isn’t giving us the whole story.
The first few ingredients listed are the main ones and indicates that the product is made up mostly of those substances (ex. measured in cups or liters). As you get closer to the end of the list, those ingredients were used in smaller amounts (ex. tsp) and there may not be much of them present in the food.
A good rule to follow is aiming to eat minimally processed foods as often as you can. Minimally processed means the food is as close to it’s naturally form, as possible. The ingredient list is an excellent way to determine how unprocessed the food is, based on it’s ingredients.
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