To start, I don’t enjoy using the word “diet” but I wasn’t sure how else to title this topic, so there you have it. Diet’s won’t get you to your goal long-term, a lifestyle change will.
That being said, I’m about to share and discuss the ONE thing I started doing that single-handedly launched my fit lifestyle into full effect.
Start reading (and understanding) the nutrition labels .
I know. It’s a simple tip, but it works. It’s important to understand that progress comes down to more than JUST counting calories (which is where most people start). You need to know where these calories are coming from – carbs, fats, protein – so if and when you stop making progress, you can make the necessary changes.
But here’s the problem: from my experience with clients, a good portion of the population doesn’t even know what they’re looking for when they look at the nutrition labels on their foods.
So, I’m going to teach you. (Good thing we learned how to calculate the dimensions of a triangle in school instead!)
Understanding Nutrition Labels:
First, you need to understand why it’s important to have a balance between carbs, fats, and proteins.
- Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose (sugar), the body’s primary source of energy. Glucose can be used for quick energy, or it can be stored by the body for later use. They also help to ensure protein is used for muscle repair/growth instead of for energy.
- Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body does not digest, which helps keep the digestive system regular (aka keeps you regular, if you know what I’m saying.)
- Fats help your body absorb important vitamins like vitamin A, D, and K. Ensuring your body is getting a healthy amount of healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) is important to ensure hormone balance.
- Protein is used by the body to repair and build muscle, make enzymes, and regulate hormones. Regular protein intake is important for overall health of bones, cartilage, muscles, skin, and blood. Protein is also the only macronutrient that is not stored by the body (a.k.a. can’t be stored as fat) *assuming protein consumption isn’t excessive – anything in excess can be bad.
For more info on macros – check out this article:
Alright so now that you have the background on WHY, here’s how you can use it:
To make this easy to understand, I’ll be using nutrition labels from popular foods and pointing out exactly what it is you should be looking for below.
Here is our example prospect:
We have an active female, we’ll call her Stacy, who is 150 pounds and maintaining weight at 2000 calories per day. Her macro-nutrient breakdown is:
45% carbs (900 calories or 225 grams)
30% Protein (600 calories or 150 grams)
25% (500 calories or 55 grams).
*Please note, these are example macros – these may not be the right macro goals for you*
Here is an example of what Stacy should look for on Nutrition Labels:
Real Life Examples:
Example 1: Skippy All Natural Peanut Butter
Nut butters are generally known for being fairly healthy. They are definitely nutritious in the sense they’re a great source for healthy fats (nuts are a good source of fats, not protein. Protein is secondary – bonus lesson). However, what people don’t take into consideration is the serving size, which could make nut butters go from healthy to unhealthy REAL fast.
1 Tablespoon is about the size of the tip of your thumb. One whole serving (or two tablespoons) packs 16 grams of fat!
For Stacy, just one serving of peanut butter takes up 1/3 of her fat intake for the day.
Example 2: Snack Food – Popcorn
Popcorn is one of the best low-calorie, filling snacks you can have if you’re on a weight loss journey (or even if you’re not because lets get real, popcorn is delicious). That being said, when you’re buying pre-packed popcorn it’s important to pay attention to the nutrition label.
First, for 1 ¾ cup of this “Smartfood Popcorn”, there are 10 grams of fat, which is very high for a “snack”. The food news is, the fat comes from healthy fats (oils noted in the ingredients) – which is a plus. But a person could get a hefty amount of fat fairly quickly while snacking on this.
Second, considering popcorn is a carbohydrate, it’s not surprising one serving has 14 grams of carbohydrates, which is actually really impressive for almost two cups of popcorn.
Third, the 3 grams of protein is definitely a bonus! Finding snacks that contain more protein is important.
Example 3: Comparing “Protein” Bars
Protein bars can be found at most grocery and convenient stores, and they can be a great option if you’re short on time – but sometimes the title of the bar and the nutrition label can be deceiving.
The top picture is of a Quest Protein Bar. With 7 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs (17 from dietary fiber – which isn’t absorbed by the body), and 20 grams of protein, this is a pretty safe bet for a quick bar to hold you over between meals.
This bar would be a good option if you’re on a road trip and know it will be an hour or two before you eat again.
The second picture is of a Cliff Bar, which isn’t really a protein bar, but is often viewed as a healthy “snack”. It contains 5 grams of fat, which is fairly low. It contains 10 grams of protein which is decent for a snack. But – one bar contains 43 grams of carbohydrates, which is extremely high for a “snack”, assuming you would be planning to eat again in an hour or two.
When this would be a good option is: before a sporting event or workout when you need the extra carbs for energy, or over a period of time where you know it’s going to be closer to four hours before you eat again.
Example 4: Meat – Beef
So you’ve cut out processed foods and you keep your diet to whole, nutritious foods (like dairy, meat, veggies, fruits, whole grains). Even seemingly “healthy” options can become unhealthy when the nutrition facts aren’t taken into consideration.
The cheapest beef you can get is generally 80% lean, 20% fat (this is what most restaurants use). Just four ounces (about the size of your palm) packs 280 calories with 23 grams of fat and 20 grams of protein – that’s a good chunk of fat to eat in one sitting. Not to mention most people are able (and willing) to eat more than four ounces in one meal.
By simply purchasing 90/10 beef instead of 80/20, a person could dramatically change their macronutrient make-up of a meal. Four ounces is only 190 calories 11 grams of fat and 21 grams of protein.
If you’re frustrated with your progress, or lack there-of, start paying more attention to what you’re actually putting into your body. You could be eating 1500 calories per day, but if all of those calories are coming from carbohydrates, you’re most likely not going to see the progress that you want to see, nor will you feel the best you could feel had you decided to split your macronutrients up more evenly.
Tip: to get a good idea of how you’re currently eating and what could be better, track your meal intake for a couple of days with an app like MyFitnessPal. After a couple of days, look at how your macros are split up and make the necessary changes.
Being aware of the nutrition in the foods you eat is key to living your healthiest life.
Til’ Next Time