Hope you had a chance to watch the video I did on reading food labels and read Part One. If not, I'm going to put it all in text so you can have something to reference.
I don't know about you, but when I first started eating cleaner, I was at such a loss of where to begin, what to look for and what pertained to me. Over the years, I realized the difference between restrictiveness and conscious lifestyle choices. I actually learned that from a vegan bodybuilder friend of mine Torre Washington. He was the first person to tell me to just eat food and get rid of all these powders I was taking.
He pretty much eats everything vegan, which can also include an entire dozen of vegan donuts. Haha! That does not work for me, nor do I recommend it. However, as I've gotten to know him, I know that he knows his body, his limits and how to balance. He enjoys his food, eats mindfully and works his butt off every single day. He sparked me really looking into what a "healthy lifestyle" actually means and how to apply that when grocery shopping and reading labels.
I follow the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) method for everything and in this order is how I read labels and how they influence my buying decision.
1. Ignore the front side. It's almost always misleading. There are not strict rules on food labeling, so marketers do what they have to do to get you to buy. Ignore it and immediately turn the product over and head over the Nutrition Facts.
2. Scan past all the calories and fat and stuff and head to the Ingredient list. This is the money maker right here. This influences 90% of my buying decision. What to look for?
- How many ingredients are in it? For me, more than 10 is too much. I don't buy foods with labels often, but when I do it needs to be to the point. Whole foods.
- Does it read like a grocery list? Meaning, I need to be able to read everything in it and purchase them separately if I wanted to.
- Knowing that ingredients are listed in order of quantity...What are the first 3 ingredients? If it is not a free oil or added sugar, I'm usually good.
- Does it have added sugar and where does it fall on the list? This is a judgement call. I eat a ton of fruit, so I'm usually not looking for added sugars. Also I like to leave room on the weekends when I usually have pancakes or donuts and that's going to put me way over my sugar count. If however, I just trained, then I'm looking for sugar to help replenish my blood sugar and glycogen. Then ask, what type of sugars are being added. That's a whole other discussion.
3. Calories from fat. Is this number higher than 20% of the calories? If so, I'm usually not going for it. I try to keep my diet as low fat as possible, which is why I eat a ton of veggies, legumes, fruit and greens with no more than a handful of nuts (unless a raw vegan dessert is around. lol). A diet high in fat can mess with your insulin levels by blocking them from being able to transport glucose into your cells. Diabetes runs in my family, so I'm not messing with it.
Side Note: At this point, I've already made my decision. I rarely buy products with labels, so this usually tells me all that I need to. I also don't do animal products, so I never have to worry about cholesterol. The below is just a little extra if they apply to you.
4. How much sodium? This is a big one, because the average American diet is waaaay too high in sodium and even the recommended amounts of 2300mg based on a 2000 calorie diet is also too high. It is recommend not to exceed 1500mg. Again, if you're eating whole foods, this may not be of concern. But I have noticed how broths and canned beans can be crazy high in sodium. Rule of thumb: if the sodium amount is more than the calorie amount, it's too much.
5. Lastly, what is the serving size and what are the net carbohydrates? Paying attention to serving size is critical, as often times they can be really small compared to what you're actually going to consume. If you know you're going to do 2-3 servings and that's going to be an excessive amount of calories, then don't do it. Lastly, always subtract fiber from your total carbohydrates, it will let you know how many carbs you're actually digesting.
Hope this was helpful in some way. Remember, these are general tips and I don't always follow them because I try as much as possible to prepare my own food or purchase from places I trust.
If you have any questions, reply to this post. We will answer them.
Dedicated To Your Success,
Strong 4 Pole, Founder and Co-Owner
P.S. You can watch the Reading Food Labels video here. I share a lot more and answer a few questions in the video that I did not answer here. I also take you through my process with having to purchase snack after an hour long bike ride.