Friday, October 17, 2014

#nbnhealthyliving: how to read a nutrition panel

What you put in your mouth affects the way you feel. It affects your appearance. It affects the way you move. It affects the way you think. It affects everything about you!! So being aware of what you're putting in your mouth is very important!

Have you ever been served one of those "surprise" ingredient meals? I was once when traveling! And trust me, it's slightly scary. Of course I'm slightly apprehensive about eating some dish that I have no idea what's in it! Most of us want to know exactly what we're eating. So then why do so many of us grab items off of the store shelf without turning them over to see what exactly is in them?

We end up consuming chemicals, food-like-products, and all kinds of junk without knowing it. Ladies and gents, it's time to get to know a nutrition panel. Because it's really important to know more than how many calories are in a serving. We need to know exactly what we're putting in our mouths. So let's educate ourselves.

What's below:
  • What is a Nutrition Panel?
  • Does the serving size really matter? Can I just eat the whole bag?
  • I don't know what some of the ingredients are. Are these just preservatives?
  • What about Food Allergen labeling? What are manufacturers required to label?
  • Calories vs Calories from Fat - what is the difference?
  • Should I be more concerned by Calories from Fat?
  • How much of each nutrient should I consume daily?
  • What if I still have questions?

I hope this helps you to make easier, quick and informed food choices for you and your family, in order to live a healthier life.

What is a Nutrition Facts Panel?
The FDA requires all packaged food to be labeled with a Nutrition Facts Panel and Ingredient List, as well as Food Allergen Labeling. The Nutrition Facts Panel is the square/rectangular shaped box on the back or side of your food product, labeled "Nutrition Facts". It lists serving size, calories, and detailed nutritional content (total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, protein, etc.).   The Ingredient List is often listed right next to or beneath the Nutrition Facts Panel. This lists each ingredient in descending order of predominance by weight. The labeling of food allergens is typically listed along with this information (see below for more info).

Does the serving size really matter? Can I just eat the whole bag?
Yes, serving size does matter and no, I wouldn't recommend eating the whole bag in one sitting (though sometimes it is tempting, I know)! The serving size is a great way to judge the nutritional value of the food. Let's take a look...

One serving of Lays Classic Potato Chips is 1oz (about 15 chips). How full are you after eating one serving of these? Typically, not full at all. Instead, you're left screaming for more!! Now what about one serving of almonds, which is 1 oz (about 28 nuts)? Unlike the potato chips, one serving of almonds typically leaves you satiated and with a happy belly. Why is this? Almonds are a nutrient dense food versus potato chips which provide you with a bunch of empty calories.

So next time you're trying to assess the nutritional value of a food rather quickly, take a look at the serving size. Would one serving leave you satiated (satisfied fully or completely; full)? You can find the serving size listed at the very top of the Nutrition Facts.

I don't know what know some of the ingredients are. Are these just preservatives?  
If you can't pronounce it or don't know what it is, steer clear of it. You should be consuming wholesome, real food. If it's a real, wholesome food or ingredient, then (most of the time) you should be able to:
 1) pronounce it
2) know what is it
3) not have to google it to find out the chemical process through which is was created

Unfortunately, it's difficult to pick up packaged or processed food these days and not find some long, strange word that you can't pronounce, listed in the ingredient list. My recommendation is this - if over 30% of the ingredients are strange to you or you cannot pronounce them, you should probably put it back on the shelf. However, the 3 rules above don't always hold true (they do most of the time). So, if there are a few ingredients listed that are strange or new to you, go ahead and Google a few. You may find out it's something you're comfortable consuming and it's not that strange after all. Just be a smart consumer and be more aware of what you're putting into your mouth.

*note: in the nutrition panel posted here (for our Goin' Nuts 12oz bag) the ingredient labeled "natural flavoring" is Pure Vanilla and the ingredient labeled "spices" is Organic Ground Cinnamon. You will see this listed specifically on our new labels (coming soon!). 

A few good things to know about the Ingredient List:
  • The ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight. That means the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. *(if the first ingredient listed on your cereal is sugar, you might as well add some milk to a cup of sugar and call it a day. the first ingredient listed is what you're consuming the most of.)
  • Spices, flavors, or artificial flavors may be declared in the Ingredient List by using either specific common or usual names ("Organic Ground Cinnmamon", "Pure Vanilla Extract", etc.) or by using the declarations "spices", "flavor", "natural flavor", or "artificial flavor"
  • If water is added as an ingredient, it must be listed in the Ingredient List

What about Food Allergen Labeling? What are manufacturers required to label?
There are allergies everywhere today with some of the most well-known allergies being gluten and nuts allergies. So it's extremely important for individuals with severe allergies to be well aware of the foods they're consuming and whether or not those foods have come into contact with, or contain, a food allergen. The FDA has taken steps that require the labeling of packaged foods to contain food allergen warnings.

Under The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), a "major food allergen" is an ingredient that is one of the following eight foods or food groups or ingredient that contains protein derived from one of them: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybean. According to the FDA, these "major food allergens" account for 90 percent of all food allergies. So if you're concerned, first check the Ingredient List (this is your best friend for finding out anything and everything that's included in that product). Next, look below the Ingredient List. Here, you will typically find the Food Allergen warning. It should look like this

CONTAINS: any food allergens found in that food (i.e., WHEAT,  MILK, WALNUTS)

Calories vs Calories from Fat - what is the difference?
You will find Calories and Calories from Fat listed directly below the Serving Size. Let's define these better:

"Calories" are total calories in one serving from all sources - fat, carbohydrates, and protein. 

"Calories from Fat" are just the calories you're receiving from fat (not carbs + protein).

On every Nutrition Facts Panel, you will also see "Total Fat" listed in grams. Every gram of fat contains about 9 calories. So, to figure out the "Calories from Fat", you merely multiply the # of grams of "Total Fat" by 9. Voila!! So when you see "Calories from Fat", they've just done the math for you! 

Should I be more concerned by Calories from fat?
We are a society that is frightened by fat, which is why they have isolated the calories from fat and listed it separately under the Nutrition Facts. Take a seat, I'm getting ready to blow your mind. FAT doesn't actually make you fat! Wait. What?! It's true. The body actually needs fat. It's a major source of energy. But that's for another post and another day! So in short, no Calories from Fat should not scare you. I hope this merely helps educate you and encourages you to read more! 

How much of each nutrient should I consume daily?
On the right side of the Nutrition Facts, you'll see a column labeled "%Daily Value*". It is much easier to learn how to read this rather than memorize how many grams of each nutrient you should consume daily! So, let's learn how.

Let's say you're consuming a snack that has 50 mg (per serving) of sodium. That is 2% of your recommended daily intake (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). To find out how many grams of each nutrient you should consume daily, look at the very bottom of the Nutrition Facts. You'll see below, that for a 2,000-calorie diet, you should consume less than 2,400mg daily. So, 40mg for a snack is OK.

What if I still have questions?
Read and learn more! With the internet, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips. But don't read just one article and take it for truth. Read lots. Get lots of different opinions and form your own thoughts and opinions. I'm still learning! I am no expert! But if you do have questions, I would love to help you find the information to make informed decisions about your health. You're only given one body. Treat it well and make smart, informed decisions about the food you're eating!! You can find more great information from the FDA here.

What other topics would you like to learn about in our weekly #nbnhealthyliving series? Let me know in the comments below!

xoxo Lauren

You can buy our fresh + healthy, organic-based granola here

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