How to Read (and Understand!) a Food Label
Even though basic nutrition is taught in schools, I find that most people aren't familiar with the how-to's of reading a nutritional label. The FDA recently changed the rulings on the requirements for nutritional labels, so I'm using this freakin' delicious cauliflower gnocchi from Trader Joe's as an excellent since it's in the new format. (tl;dr: Calories are now larger, as well as serving size, per container size, and also the inclusion of added sugars, among other things).
So, let's get right into it!
I like Trader Joe's packaging because they don't try to sugarcoat anything. It's large and it doesn't really try to hide anything by making a lot of false claims or hiding the ingredients in a bunch of fine print. Ya'll know what kind of labels I'm talking about. Let's get to the goodness.
So, this is one of the first things that I look at when I'm looking at a nutrition label and it should be for you, too! Who cares about how low-calorie something is if the food is made of garbage and chemicals! Gross!
So, that being said, these cauliflower gnocchi are actually a really good choice. Ya'll should know by now that I'm not a fan of anything that comes in a package, but I do have one rule: you can eat it, if you can tell me what all of the ingredients are. So, in this case, we've got a pretty awesome dinner idea that has clean ingredients and bonus, cassava flour is paleo-friendly and gluten-free!
Serving size refers to the amount that you, as a standard human, should consume in one sitting. This does not mean your desired serving. The calories listed are for this specified serving size. As I discussed accurate macro calculating in "What It Means to Count Macros", make sure that when you're looking at the serving size, you note the size in grams. One this label it lists a serving as 1 cup/140g. In a perfect world, those two things would be identical, however, that is not often the case, especially when things are measured in cups and teaspoons. One cup of this gnocchi is going to be a much different pour than 140g (try it for yourself!), so it's important to make sure that you are counting accurately! If you want the macro content from the serving size to be accurate, you need to weigh out the appropriate amount that you're looking to make for lunch or dinner (140g!) on your food scale, not with a measuring cup.
Servings Per Container
The specified servings per container can always be a little tricky because it makes people lazy. If I was rushing through my meal prep, it would be easy to input this data into my food tracker as the total calories. While this is a good indicator, pay attention to the difference in calories. The serving size is listed as 140g = 140 calories. The label lists the servings per bag as 2.5, yet the calories don't line up (2.5 servings would be 370 calories). Make sure that you are not simply inputing in the serving size based on the calories, but by the total weight of what you are eating!
Vitamins and Minerals
Most people know to look for protein, fat, and carbohydrates on a nutritional label. But how often have you checked the added vitamins and minerals? Ideally, you're looking for high numbers here, meaning (likely) that the foods are minimally processed and much of the whole food is still remaining. Ideally, we're looking to consume the best quality food possible, and in its whole form, that is where we would find the most vitamins and minerals!
Hopefully, you learned a little something today about reading and deciphering a food label! So, when you're looking for food on your grocery trips, make sure that you check the ingredients, watch your portion sizes, and make sure that what you're eating is full of vitamins and minerals!
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