The Eight Most Important Things To Look For On Nutrition Labels

The Eight Most Important Things To Look For On Nutrition Labels

By Cathryne Keller, (TNS)

If you want to fill your grocery cart with foods that’ll keep you satisfied, slim and overall healthy, your smartest strategy is to first look at the ingredients list (or, even better, buy whole foods that don’t have an ingredients list). Words you can’t pronounce? Lots of sneaky names for sugar? Put it back on the shelf.

Your next move: Read the nutrition label. Studies show that label readers make healthier choices at the grocery store and maintain healthier weights, too. But what should you be looking for, exactly?

In her book, Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food, celebrity nutritionist Christine Avanti offers these seven general guidelines for reading a nutrition label right:

Serving size: This tells you what amount of the food or drink the nutritional information is based on. Some nutrition panels will also tell you how many servings are in the package or container. Look carefully at the serving size. There may be two, three, or more servings in the package, which obviously doubles or triples the number of calories and the amounts of the ingredients in the food if you eat the whole thing.

Calories: As a general rule, you should stick to 300 to 500 calories in one meal if you intend to lose weight. That being said, in my opinion the number of calories in a serving of food is not as critical as the amount of protein, carbs, fats, and real-food ingredients. I recommend eating foods that stabilize blood sugar levels, so the focus should not be so much on calories as on how you are balancing your carbs with your protein and fats. If the food has 70 grams of carbs but just four grams of protein, that food will definitely spike blood sugar, so I recommend you avoid it.

Total fat: Total fat tells you how much fat is in a serving. Some labels, like the one shown, do break out saturated and trans fat and give the amounts of each. But just as many do not. The reason is the food industry does not want to call attention to the fact that their products contain trans fat. Therefore, many labels will simply list the total amount of fat and then break out and list the total amount of saturated fat leaving it up to you to do your detective work on the ingredients list to figure out what other kinds of fat the product contains. Avoid foods with more than 15 grams of fat per serving if you would like to lose weight (unless you are sure it is a “good” fat).

Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol means the food is high in fat. Remember, you want to keep your fat intake to a ballpark of 40 grams a day (ten grams per meal) for weight loss.

Sodium: You really need to be diligent in reducing your sodium intake. By the USDA’s reckoning, a food is low in sodium if it contains no more than 140 milligrams per serving. As a rule, the amount of sodium should be less than double the number of calories per serving.

Total carbohydrates: This category includes everything from whole grains to sugar and other refined carbs. Typically, a nutrition panel will break down the carbohydrate total, detailing how much fiber and sugar is included in the total number.

Sugar, Sugar, SUGAR!: This number is super important. In fact, this is one of the major bits of information that I hope will make an imprint on your brain and never go away. When it comes to the sugar count on a nutrition label, the most important information you need to know is that four grams of nutrition label sugar equals one actual teaspoon of sugar. You don’t have to go crazy counting grams of sugar, but if your goal is to lose weight, aim for no more than five teaspoons, or 20 grams, of added sugars per day. Remember that natural sugars are okay to consume in moderation (along with a protein or healthy-fat source, in order to stabilize blood sugar). The villain is too many added sugars, which can be found in even seemingly healthy foods like yogurts.

Protein: On a real-food diet, between 20 percent and 25 percent of your total calories should come from protein. That comes out to about 20 to 22 grams of protein per meal. Remember, it is important to also look at how many grams of carbs and fat your food has. Generally you want your meal to be approximately one part protein to two parts carbohydrates and under 15 grams of good fats.


Photo: Benjamin Lee via Flickr

Seven Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight

Seven Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight

By Cathryne Keller, (TNS)

Your fridge is more colorful than a Lady Gaga performance. Your gym clothes are still sweaty from last night. Your Instagram feed is all sneakers and salads. So why isn’t that jerk of a scale budging?

Changing your food and fitness habits is challenging enough as it is, but if your healthy efforts aren’t even paying off in the dressing room, we don’t blame you for considering ditching your weight-loss plan all together in the name of Netflix and Nutella. But don’t do it.

Even if you think you’re doing everything right, there are a few minor weight-loss missteps that can majorly sabotage your slim-down success. We hit up star trainer Harley Pasternack, author of the new 5 Pounds, to find out the biggest reasons you’re not losing weight (and what to do about it):

1. You sit too much

“People focus too much on exercise and not enough on activity,” Pasternak said. Studies show that intense exercise sessions don’t offset the effects of too much sitting. Pasternak’s recommendation? “Get an activity tracker (he likes Fitbit) and aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

2. Your workouts are played out

You’ve heard it before, and Pasternak will say it again: Mix it up at the gym. “If you’re bored, so are your muscles,” he said. “To keep your body changing, you have to keep the workouts changing.” Need some fitspiration? Try a new class or add strength training to your cardio sessions.

3. You’re guilty of cardio overkill

Sprinting and spinning until you pass out is not only grueling, but it can actually backfire. “There’s no need to always push yourself to exhaustion,” Pasternak said. “Too much cardio can increase your stress hormones and create an aversion to exercise.” Plus, all those burned calories increase your appetite and can lead to what Pasternak calls the “permissive effect”: “If you’ve killed it at SoulCycle, you’re more likely to avoid extra activity — like walking to meet a friend instead of driving — and say yes to the dessert tray because you tell yourself, ‘I’ve already spun today. I don’t need to do any more exercise and I deserve a treat.’ ”

4. You’re on a juice cleanse

“First of all, there is no such thing as a cleanse,” Pasternak said. “Our body is constantly replacing all of its cells and cleansing itself.” What’s more: Most juices are closer to dessert than a balanced meal. “Because of its high sugar content and lack of the three nutrients essential to qualify your food as a healthy meal — protein, fiber and healthy fats — a juice cleanse will make you hungry, irritable and can even make you gain weight in the long run.”

5. You’re never in your kitchen

“We’re eating out more than we ever have as a culture,” Pasternak said. “As a result, we have less control over what goes in our food, how it’s made, and its portion size.” Making your own food is key if you’re trying to slim down, and one easy way to whip up a healthy meal is to start blending. “Smoothies allow you to make a complete healthy meal in under a minute,” he said. Just be sure to include a little fat to fill you up, and some protein to help you build lean, metabolism-boosting muscle. Not sure what to put in your blend? Here are Harley’s top tips for building the perfect smoothie. (His new Power Blender can help you get the job done, too.)

6. You have a cheat day

“In the past, I used to agree that people could benefit from a cheat day, but it’s really too restrictive the other six days of the week,” Pasternak said. We end up gorging so badly on the seventh day that we tend to set ourselves backward and make ourselves feel ill in the process.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t splurge every once in awhile. Pasternak’s advice for indulging your cravings without getting off track: “Replace the word ‘cheat’ with the word ‘free’ and replace the word ‘day’ with ‘meal,’ and allow yourself to have two ‘free meals’ a week.”

7. Your water bottle is empty

Downing a lot of water may be hard for some of us, but it’s worth it if you want to drop pounds. “Unchecked dehydration can be mistaken as hunger,” Pasternak said. “Stay hydrated with calorie-free beverages throughout the day.” His personal favorite? Sparkling water with a wedge of lime.

Photo:  Nottingham Trent University via Flickr