Read any Nutrition Facts Label in 20 Seconds (or Less)
Behind every great food, every nutrition supplement and every restaurant drink list, there rests a food facts label.
Also known as the Nutrition Facts Label, this is basic info about the food we eat daily, incorporated, into American food packages, since 1994.
And since 1994, this information is standard practice in food processing/packaging.
If you are like many of my clients, these labels look to you like hieroglyphs.
These arcane labels is confusing:
Serving sizes are almost never ONE; the scientific names on the bottom look like Esperanto; key elements like oils and empty calories are rarely if ever in plain sight.
Typically, I get asked three main questions about foods and oils, powders and pills that folks bring to me weekly:
- When should I take this?
- How much should I take?
- Is it safe?
I’ll spin the package around, ignoring the front-side in favor of delicious science and the empirical evidence splayed on the reserve side, often never seen by consumers (it never lies)
In 20 seconds, I will know exactly what food they’re eating and why.
It is a skill I have learned from being a nutritionist and athlete over time.
Anyone can learn.
The Back of the Label means More than the Front
Within 20 seconds, you can answer these questions for yourself while you fly through the supermarket aisles before dinner.
Reduce Serving Size (3 seconds)
1. Get your serving size down to “1.”
“Serving Size : 4 Pieces” is useful information in the same vain that you being victim of a shark attack is less likely that being hit by lightening is useful information – sort of.
From there, it is much easier to double it and it forces your mind to think of the food label as an overestimation, which really, it often is.
Then, you will begin to eat fewer pieces, listening then to your hunger and not the label.
Do you not think it behooves the food company if you eat MORE at once?
Next, divide the “Calories” by the same number, first.
So, 4 pieces = 220 calories
1 Piece = 55 calories.
The same goes for all the macronutritients (fats, carbs and proteins) too, but for now, calories in ONE serving is most profound.
Total Carbohydrate = Sugar + Fiber + (Complex Carbohydrates) – 10 Seconds
2. Total Carbs Minus Sugars Equals Complex Carbs
Are you eating (or drinking) this food before a workout, for breakfast or as a post workout recovery?
Complex Carbohydrates, which determines the reason you are eating these foods, deserve a section of their own.
Complex Carbohydrates are simply any Carbs that are NOT Sugars, especially with respect to a nutrition facts label.
- Fibers – soluble and insoluble like cellulose,
- Dextrins – like amylose or starches
- Polysaccharides – pectin, ribose
All exist as complex carbohydrates in purposes of health and exercise.
Foods higher in complex carbs, like high starch potatoes, whole grains, and higher fiber foods like bean sprouts and seaweed serve us most importantly after a workout and are typically better for stabilizing our blood sugar.
Fibers have ZERO calories.
To sift out the section, simply:
- Take Total Carbohydrate
- Subtract Sugars
- Yield a number = complex carbohydrates
- Subtract Fiber
- Yield a number = Usable complex carbohydrates for energy
- More grams of SUGAR than Complex Carbs are “High in sugar” and probably best for before a workout – without exercise, they contribute to high blood sugar levels during the day and may be associated with a crash.
- Foods with more Complex Carbs than Sugar are ideal for recovery from a cardio day or for preparing a day before a cardio day as your body will crave the precious glycogen.
- Sugar at nearly the same number as total carbohydrates are largely before a workout.
High Protein, Low Protein (5 seconds)
3. Protein, multiplied by 4 give you calories of protein
This means that 2 grams of protein is 8 calories.
With respect to the food we eat, this only matters as a percentage.
Foods with a higher protein ratio, I find, are usually at or above 50% protein.
These foods, like eggs, chicken and fish, or legumes and chia seed which are more than 40% protein are AMAZING for weight loss and metabolism boosts.
They keep you full, they are slowly being metabolized by you body which needs amino acids, and they are typically low in sugar and empty calories thus creating a nice caloric deficit in the diet.
- Go to Protein
- Multiply by Four (4)
- Divide this number by “calories”
- Get a Number (a percentage)
- Is it Under or Over 40%?
Fats Hide Calories (2 Seconds)
4. Saturated Fats – Keep below 7% per DAY
This one is easy. It is also the most important feature of any food label.
Go to total fat, and look at “Saturated Fat.”
Saturated fats in foods are solidified fats that, while associated with heart disease greatly at one time REF, are still lionized, rightfully, as the most impactful part of your diet.
Today, sugar is the evil specter of nutrition, contributing to the largest part of what people consider empty calories, but, saturated fats are much more a contributor.
This is because we can eat diets where less than 7% of Saturated fats are eaten per day – this is about 150 calories of SATURATED fat – which reduces the amount of total calories you intake greatly.
If you consume 20 grams of sugar say, in a fruit drink, you are consuming 80 “empty calories.”
Ok, if you consume 20 grams of fat from delicious organic ice cream, you are taking in well over 190 calories. If half of it is saturated fat, you’d be consuming 85 calories!
The comparison is easy.
If there are LESS than half a gram (0.5) of trans fats in your food, it WILL NOT BE LISTED in this section.
Each snack or meal should be a MAX of 4 grams per day!
Extra Time, Extra Ingredients
5. Look for hidden foods or ingredients
Typically, trans fats, or, “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” anything like bean oils, appear first or second in the ingredients list.
So, even if it does not appear on the facts label, trans fats still may be in your food.
6. Types of Sugar
Sugar, added sugar more specially, exists in many forms. But, make sure you are fully aware that these foods and additives are sweeteners or derived directly (sometimes as natural derivatives) of sugar
- Xantham Gum
- High Fructose Syrup
Congratulations, your crash course is complete! You can scan any nutrition facts label with ninja speed and instinct.