How to read a nutrition label

 

A brief history of the nutrition label

The idea of a nutrition label is relatively new in regards to how long packaged food has been around. In 1990 The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed, this provides FDA with specific authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods. This also required that all nutrient content claims and health claims be consistent with agency regulations (read here). On May 27, 2016 the FDA made some updates to the traditional nutrition label that we are used to seeing in an effort to help consumers better understand what all is included in the product before purchase.You can read more about that here. It is also important to note that produce that is not pre-packaged is not required to have a nutrition label on it.

Navigating the nutrition label

To read a nutrition label you can start at the top of the label. This is where you will find out what a serving size of the product is, how many servings per container, and two different measurement types of that serving size(grams, ounces, cups, etc).  Knowing this can help determine personal serving sizes especially if your macros do not allow for a full portion of the product. This is also important because all of the percentages listed out for the calories, macros, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins, and minerals will be per serving.  Recently more products have started including nutritional information for the entire package adjacent to that of the serving size. After the serving size of a product you will see the calories per servings.Next is the total fat of a product with the different types of fat that are included in the product listed below. If a product includes trans fat it is required to list it and the amount that it contains.  Cholesterol and sodium are listed after total fat and these three should be monitored when not consuming whole foods and limited in consumption in general.Total carbohydrate is next and is broken down into sugar and fiber. With these new label guidelines companies are now going to be required to label the added sugar inside of a food product. Because of this you may also see total sugar listed more under total carbohydrates with a break down of the sugars included in a product. The way fiber is calculated is scheduled to be updated as well but it may not be as noticeable. Currently the definition of what should be included in dietary fiber is being reviewed so that what is listed for dietary fiber is only fiber that is beneficial to health. Another change to the label is Vitamin A and C which are no longer required and are now voluntary listings. This change is because in the early 1990s when nutritional labels were being established American diets lacked Vitamins A and C, but now Vitamins A and C deficiencies in the general population are rare. The minerals Calcium and Iron are still required to be listed on the food label. These along with fiber are required to be listed on the label in an effort to get Americans to get in enough of these nutrients. The last thing to be listed on the nutrition label is footnotes about daily values usually including variations of a 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diet.

To start this off I would like to explain what Meal preparation, or meal prep for short, really is. Meal prepping is simply pre-preparing meals so that when you need them they are ready for you. This does not always involve cooking the meals.

WAYS TO USE MEAL PREPPING

Meal prepping in general should be used to make some aspect of your life easier. This can be as simple as one less thing to do in the morning before work or just having a meal already prepared to help you stick to a specific eating plan. One way to meal prep is to prep all of your meals for a certain amount of days and store them in the refrigerator. Others prefer to only prep one or some of the meals that they will eat throughout the day and cook some meals fresh before eating them. Another way to prep doesn’t involve cooking at all but only includes seasoning and portioning out ingredients for a recipe and freezing them in a freezer bag for a later date.

WHAT YOU NEED

1. food scale (if portioning food)

2. Tupperware

3. measuring cups

4. freezer bags

5. parchment paper or aluminum foil

GETTING STARTED

To get started you will first need to plan out what you want to meal prep and decide a day to do your

meal prepping and/or grocery shopping on. Some simple things to start with are below.

  • Proteins: chicken breast, ground turkey, ground beef, steak, eggs, fish if you dare
    • Vegan options: lentils, beans, chia seeds, Hemp seeds, spirulina, seitan(gluten)
  • Carbs: wild rice, quinoa, yams/sweet potato, brown rice, whole grain tortillas
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts, nut butters, olive oil, and coconut oil
  • Vegetables: Green beans, asparagus, spinach, zucchini/squash, Greens, peppers

Once you have planned out your meals and the portions for each meal the next step is to go grocery shopping. Before you go be sure to check newspaper ads, company websites, and mobile apps for coupons and sales going on to save extra money and help plan what you want to buy from each store. Also be sure to make a grocery list including everything you need and the quantity of each item needed. This will help you stay on track and allow you to buy in bulk for things that warrant it.

PREPPING

Now that you have planned out your meals and have grocery shopped for everything that you need, it’s time to prep!

For this I usually start with the things that require the least effort to cook. So I will put my chicken in the oven and my rice or quinoa in the rice maker. If I make sweet potatoes, I cook them in the oven before my chicken so that they can cool down and I can peel them while the other food finishes. Lastly I make my vegetables on the stove top usually “sautéed” w/water or steamed. Once I am done cooking all of my food I portion it out using my scale and put in my Tupperware to store in the refrigerator.

TIPS

1. Marinate your meat when possible

2. Buy nonperishable (rice, quinoa, oils, etc.) items in bulk for saving

3. Invest in a cooler bag if you work in an office – these range from $10 to upwards of $300 but a simple bag from target, amazon, or any department will do fine.

4. Rice cookers are awesome and will make your life easier

5. Parchment paper over foil (trust me on this)

6. Mason jar salads can be convenient when used right

7. Save money by using frozen vegetables

8. Slow cookers = saving time & less work

9. Measure your food to be honest about calories being consumed

10. Don’t stress you’ll get the hang of it