You are what you eat, as some people say, and that’s why self-awareness of the food we consume is key to living a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle. What we put into our bodies fuels us and helps determine how healthy we live. But in our current age of genetically modified organisms and chemically altered foods, many aspects of nutrition can be confusing and even alarming.
You want to be healthy, and eating well as much as you can, so it's only natural you'd want to know exactly what you're putting into your body. And nutrition labels are certainly not making it easy on any of us.
Overly complicated names you can’t pronounce on the back of your food package — with 13 syllables — may be perfect for your next Scrabble game, but who wants that in their food? (Not us!)
However, learning about what the nutrition labels actually mean does not have to be daunting. Whether those little nutrition labels leave you scratching your head or you're already a professional-grade nutrition sleuth, below are the basics for decoding that ever-elusive nutrition label to make sure that if you are what you eat, it’s a good thing.
The Serving Size
This value can be very misleading if you're not quite sure what to look for. The serving size translates into the amount of that food that someone might eat at a single time. It's also directly related to the number of servings the entire package holds, and there may be a difference between a serving size and a portion size, as the popularity of eating out has distorted many people's perception of what constitutes a single portion.
If you’re accustomed to simply guessing at how much you eat (like most of us), instead of perceiving food in ounces or grams, or not even paying it a second thought at all, staying mindful of your portion size as it correlates to how much is in the box, bag, or package can help you stay on track.
Keep in mind that if you consume more than the amount listed, your total intake, including fats and calories, will be higher too. Smaller packages, like wholesome plant-based bars, are likely to contain a single serving, and you can finish them off with little to no guilt whatsoever.
A calorie is a unit of measurement for the energy that a portion of food will impart. Calorie recommendations vary from person to person, based on a variety of factors. These include a person's general health, age, height, weight, lifestyle, and activity level.
Simply put, when you take in more calories than you burn, your weight is likely to increase. Conversely, if your calorie intake is less than what you burn (via exercise, walking, yoga, chasing your three-year-old, etc.), this creates a calorie deficit and sets the stage for weight loss.
This may be the spot on the food label that gets a lot of attention, but don't forget to look at the whole picture. A serving with 50 calories is low, while eating 400 calories per sitting is considered relatively high.
You don't have to be a diligent calorie counter in order to be healthy, though. Just use common sense and stick with the naturally low-calorie numbers if you're looking to maintain or to lose weight.
Percentage of Daily Values
These percentages give you an indication of how that particular food fits into your daily nutrient budget. It's your collection of indicators as to whether or not the food has a high percentage of fat or cholesterol, for example, based on a standard diet of 2,000 calories per day. Your personal nutrient needs will vary from that standard, so plan accordingly, but with these percentages, you can get a good idea whether or not this is a food you should consume. The amount of sodium, for example, might not mean anything at first, but when you see that it represents a major percentage of your daily intake, things become far more clear.
Fats, Sodium, and Added Sugars
As with many of the good things in life, there are nutrients to love, and nutrients to limit. If you're following a healthy lifestyle, trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Saturated fats hould be steered clear of, while sodium is needed only in moderation.
It's wise to limit added sugars, but do consider that all sugars are not created equal. A raw, organic, plant-based sweetener taken in moderation can definitely fit well into your healthy diet. And, a bit of natural sugar, like agave or date syrup, can sweeten things up nicely.
But, this is where it's helpful to check out your handy ingredient list. As a rule, the shorter the ingredient list, the better. The ingredients are listed in order of quantity used to make the product, so if the first ingredient is a vegetable, you know you've hit a jackpot of wholesome goodness. Fewer ingredients often indicate more wholesome food. If you need a magnifying glass to read it because of an excess of long names, watch out!
As an example, a 100% plant-based ZENB Veggie Stick incorporates all-natural fiber with its inclusion of the plant's stems, seeds, skins, and anything else that normally gets tossed aside.
Eating Well, Living Life
Beyond understanding the nutrition label itself, the best way to stay true to your nutrition goals is to stay active, drink plenty of water and eat a variety of colorful, whole foods. Eating organic whole food gives you a head start for healthfulness. And when you’re eating whole organic foods, you contribute to a global movement for positive change. The relationship we have with the Earth is a delicate balancing act to be sure, but one we can help to transform for the better through our mindful food choices. When you reclaim your food, you also reclaim the celebration of living through nutrition.
And, no matter where you go, you can enjoy the latest recipes, tips, and interviews around living your best life. Simply join the ZENB community and enjoy what’s new!
At ZENB, we create plant-based, veggie-first veggie sticks that come in a rainbow of flavors. They can be enjoyed virtually anywhere, whether you’re on the go, at work, on a hike, or cozied up at home.
If you would like more help decoding your food labels, or have any questions about living a full, balanced life, contact us today!