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The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s usually found close to the ingredient listing.

Two versions of a nutrition Facts label, the old and new version.

The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to choose healthier foods, right?

Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!

Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.

Step 1: Serving Size

The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it’s tricky.

All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. So, for example in the label we see above (the one on the right), the serving size is 1 cup. This means when you eat 1 cup of this food, you’ll be eating 7 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, etc. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.

You may purchase this product and essentially memorize that one serving contains these particular nutrient values. However, if you purchase another brand – that brand may have the serving size be 2 cups. WOAH! If you aren’t careful and don’t notice that EVERYthing has doubled on that label, you may be under the impression that you can eat twice as much of the second brand. NO! Not the case at all.

In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small. I’ve not heard if this is the case with U.S. labels.

Let’s use an example – plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco. 

As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.

FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).

Step 2: % Daily Value

The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day. 

NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.

The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule. It means most of the population will not be DEFICIENT in this particular nutrient if this DV is met.

You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.

NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it’s missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn’t an agreed “official” %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.

Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)

Calories are pretty straight forward. Look at the walnuts label, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.

Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat.That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g – 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).

Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It’s easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made/packaged foods, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).

Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.

Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.

Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)

The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional. 

Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you’ll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.

Conclusion

I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.

One of the best things about reading labels is truly knowing what you are putting in your body. Many food-tracking apps, such as myfitnesspal, have the ability to scan the bar code so this information gets transferred right into your food log! All you have to do is tell it how many servings you ate. It’s pretty nifty.

And don’t forget my general rule for SUGAR on these labels….If it has more than 10 grams of sugar per serving…consider it CANDY! Many health bars, cereals, etc are marketed as “healthy” when, in reality, they are the opposite! So, labels are of tremendous value if you are truly interested in optimizing nutrition for health.

Take a look at a couple labels of processed foods that are marketed as healthy and look at their labels!

My book Weight Loss that Works: Secrets to Restoring Confidence and Reclaiming Your Body is now available in the KINDLE STORE! Woot!

Recipe (walnuts): Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack

Serves 1

8 walnut halves

4 dates, pitted

Instructions

Make a “date sandwich” by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Try with pecans instead.

References:

http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/changes-modifications-eng.php
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/percent-daily-value.html
http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/regulatory-guidance-directives-reglementaires/daily-values-valeurs-quotidiennes/guide-eng.php#p1

You totally want to ditch your scale, don’t you?

I mean, that number you see on there doesn’t define you (obviously)….you know that, RIGHT?

What you weigh does matter but only to a certain extent. Did you know that waist circumference can be a better indicator of your health risks?

Let’s look at your waist circumference (well…you look at yours and I’ll look at mine).

Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”?  The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases)?  

Yup – that apple!

And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”.  The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdominal cavity covering the liver, intestines, and other organs there.

This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is.  It’s this “un-pinchable” fat.  

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood cholesterol, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

Apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than pear-shaped people do.

So as you can see, where  fat is stored can be more important than how much you weigh.

Am I an apple or a pear?

It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape.  You can do it right now.

Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.

For men the number is 40”. 

Of course this isn’t a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases.  Waist circumference is just one of them.

If you find yourself measuring at or around these numbers, please schedule an appointment to discuss with your physician. You can also find a specialized weight loss physician to help you via the ABOM website. These are physicians, such as myself, who have extra training and certification in weight-loss medicine.

Tips for helping reduce visceral fat:

  • Eat more fiber.  Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways. First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food. Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
  • Add more protein to your day.  Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer.  It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
  • Nix added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially sodas and juice (even 100% pure juice).
  • Move more.  Get some aerobic exercise.  Lift some weights.  Walk and take the stairs.  It all adds up. Moving means getting up outta that chair at least every 45 minutes and walking around, stretching, marching in place, etc. Just MOVE.
  • Stress less. Seriously!  Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
  • Get more sleep.  Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).

My book Weight Loss that Works: Secrets to Restoring Confidence and Reclaiming Your Body is now available via KINDLE! But, if you’d still prefer the PDF form for printing, you can find that here.

Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Serves 4

1 lb brussel sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)

2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

dash salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.  

In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice.  Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  Toss.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip:  Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K.  You may want to eat them more often.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-abdominal-fat-and-risk
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/visceral-fat-location

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/weights-poids/guide-ld-adult/qa-qr-pub-eng.php#a4

https://authoritynutrition.com/6-proven-ways-to-lose-belly-fat/

https://authoritynutrition.com/20-tips-to-lose-belly-fat/