Saturday, August 13, 2011

Understanding the USDA Food Label

While Clean Eating is all about focusing on foods that don't have a barcode, a certain amount of packaged food is unavoidable. Making wise choices that are as clean as possible is one of the fundamentals to living a Clean lifestyle along side foods with barcodes in your pantry.

The first step to making wiser choices is to understand how to read the USDA food nutritional labels that are standardized on all packaged foods in the United States. I've pulled a sample above, and we'll go through these one at a time and relate them to Clean Eating.

1. Serving Size and Servings per container - Important!
Knowing exactly how much a serving size is considered by the manufacturer is crucial! If you glance at a package and see the ingredients are borderline but don't realize a serving is 2 tablespoons but you go ahead and eat a cup ( that's 16 tablespoons ) you are eating 16 times the amount reflected by the nutritional information. So if that 2 tablespoons has 100 calories ( let's pretend ), then if you eat a whole cup - you've just consumed 1600 calories!

2. Calories
Calories aren't as important to the Clean Eater as consuming foods that are naturally found in Nature. However, if your calorie consumption is too high per day, you will be eating healthier but not losing weight. If your goal in adopting CE is weight loss and getting healthy as you do it, you'll need to be more aware of the calories you consume. Remember, there are 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat. Burn 3,500 calories, or consume 3,500 less in a week to lose that pound per week.

3. Nutrients
Total fat, sodium, and cholesterol are important numbers. Like calories, if you are CE for weight loss, you'll want to consider your fat intake, and knowing if your food as saturated or trans fats ( both bad ) is good to know. But also put things into perspective. For example - cheese has fat, as it is a product from milk. Here is where portion control ( bullet point #1 ) is important. How much fat is in your serving - and is your serving vastly out of proportion? Everyone should moderate their salt intake - and Clean Eaters are no exception. Salt makes you retain water, thwarting weight loss efforts.

4. Vitamins and Minerals
This area usually isn't vital to the Clean Eater, as we get a vast majority of our vitamins and minerals from our large fruit, veggie, whole grain, and meat diet. However, if you are deficient in one area ( iron, or like me - Vitamin D ) - these numbers are helpful to boost your daily intake.

5. Footnote
This area is what the Federal Government / USDA advises for a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Use this as a guideline if you wish, but personally I think the "permissible" fat and sodium levels are shockingly high.

6. Percentages
The percentages tell you what percentage of the USDA daily guideline the food you are considering satisfies. In the above example, the macaroni and cheese accounts for 18% of the total daily fat the USDA recommends you eat per day. Again, with the footnote, I don't pay this much mind - especially where it comes to fat and sodium.

We can't always avoid food without a bar code - but if you decipher the nutrition label correctly ( and ensure the ingredients in the container are naturally occurring and wholesome ), you will be on the right path to Clean Eating.

Enjoy the weekend!