Tag: nutrition label

How To Read The Nutrition Facts Label & Why It Matters For Your Health

We all lead super busy lives. So when we go food shopping, who has time to scrutinize every single ingredient listed on every single nutrition facts label printed on every single item that we’re considering throwing in the shopping cart? Well, if you want to eat as clean as possible so that you can be as healthy as possible, learning how to read the nutrition facts label is critical. Thankfully, as a certified nutritional therapist, I’m here to break it down for you.

Food manufacturers are trying to pull a fast one on you. If you purchase any item that’s in a jar, can or box—with the exception of fresh produce—there’s a decent chance it contains the following:

  • Added sugars
  • High levels of net carbohydrates
  • High levels of sodium
  • Very low levels of beneficial minerals
  • Rancid vegetable oil or seed oil
  • Artificial preservatives

Now, I realize that we don’t live in a perfect world. And so if you’re buying one processed snacky thing like gluten-free pretzels and enjoying it in moderation, I’m not here to judge.

But, have you ever heard the expression, “Death by a thousand paper cuts”? The idea is that one little nick won’t hurt you. But 1000 painful paper cuts could lead to a nasty, fatal infection. This same principle applies to the world of nutrition. When you go food shopping, your goal should be to limit the number of nutritional paper cuts that you put in your shopping cart.

Added Sugars

The first place my eyes immediately go to when I’m purchasing an unfamiliar product is the nutrition facts label. Thankfully, a handful of years ago, our federal government (the FDA) finally did something about the over-consumption of added sugars in the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Let’s ignore the fact that the government itself is largely to blame for that because … well, remember those food pyramids? So what do you think will happen if you eat 6-11 servings per day of bread and other grains? But that’s for another topic…I digress.

Anyhoo, in 2016, the FDA issued rules that updated the nutrition facts label. The biggest update was added sugars. This was such a profound update because it’s shocking how many unsuspecting foods contain added sugars. We expect soda to contain added sugar but not salad dressing, bread, peanut butter and I could go on and on…

According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, adult women should have no more than 24 grams of sugar per day and 36 grams for most men. That translates to 6 and 9 teaspoons of sugar, respectively. That’s still too much in my book. But again, that’s for another topic…

Now if you’re someone who doesn’t make a lot of meals from scratch and instead rely on packaged foods, the amount of added sugars in your diet can add up real fast. So that’s why I highly encourage you to read the nutrition facts and check out the number of grams of added sugars. If the label says 1 gram of added sugars, well, I can live with that.

But for metabolic health and weight loss, the goal should be close to zero grams of added sugars. Eventually, you’ll become familiar with the healthiest packaged foods at the markets where you shop. So you won’t need to spend as much time scanning the nutrition facts.

Watch out for added sugars in so-called “healthy” juice drinks. You might be surprised, and not pleasantly.

Veronica with high sugar bottles

Net Carbs

“Net Carbs” is NOT something you’ll see listed on the nutrition facts label. To put it simply, net carbs is the number of grams of total carbohydrates minus the number of grams of fiber (as well as sugar alcohol; but try to avoid sugar alcohol if you have gut issues).

Here’s an example:

Total Carbohydrates: 15 grams

Dietary Fiber: 5 grams

Net carbs = 10 grams

Both total carbohydrates and dietary fiber are listed on the nutrition facts label. If even doing some simple math sounds like a chore, then no worries, you don’t have to whip out your calculator. The important thing is to notice how many grams of total carbohydrates a particular food has. If it’s a very high amount, say, like 40 grams or higher, there should be a significant amount of fiber to offset the total carbs.

If there’s very little fiber, then the high amount of carbohydrates can quickly spike your blood sugar levels. Healthy grains like quinoa may have a high amount of carbohydrates but they also have a decent amount of fiber as well as protein.

nutrition label carbs

Fat

When it comes to dietary fat, I’m actually not particularly concerned with the amount of fat unless it’s insanely high, like 50 grams.

What matters more is the type of fat. The Mediterranean Diet continues to have a reputation of being perhaps the single healthiest type of diet on the planet not only because it calls for lots of fresh veggies. Another key component is heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that come from foods like olives, olive oil, avocado (and avo oil) and cold-water oily fish.

I’m also not too concerned about saturated fat although there are some people who need to be careful about their intake of it because their genetics puts them at greater risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

The biggest issue with fat is where it comes from. The unhealthiest sources of fat come from vegetable oil and seed oils. Now I know that may sound counterintuitive because vegetables and seeds sound healthy. But the problem with these oils is that they are heavily refined and they spoil very easily. And how consuming these oils in large amounts may affect your health is that they may cause high inflammation in various parts of your body.

Heavily-processed, packaged foods are typically made with these poor oils that food manufacturers love to use because they are cheap. So if you see corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil or cottonseed oil, try to avoid it. When cooking at home, use avocado oil, walnut oil, ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil. (Just be careful of the high amount of saturated fat in coconut oil if you have a family history of heart disease.)

healthy oils

Everything Else

Sodium

As for sodium, unless you’re on a sodium-restricted diet or have edema, I wouldn’t pay too much attention. If you buy bone broth or soup stock, it will likely have a lot of sodium. The problem with most high-sodium, packaged foods is that they lack vitamins and minerals. And when you consume too much sodium and not enough beneficial nutrients, it can throw off your electrolyte balance.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol used to be demonized by the mainstream medical establishment. Eating a diet high in cholesterol—mainly anything that’s made from an animal—was thought to be a sure ticket to developing heart disease.

But just in the last handful of years, many (but not all) health experts have changed their stance and no longer regard cholesterol as a nutrient of concern. Why after so many decades did the so-called experts change their mind? Well, the latest research studies cast big doubts about the link between cholesterol consumption and cardiovascular disease. So unless your doctor has advised you to curb your cholesterol consumption, don’t pay too much attention. Just make sure you’re eating clean, organic/wild humanely-raised animal products.

Vitamin D/Iron/Calcium/Potassium

These 4 nutrients are required on nutrition facts labels. Vitamin D is hard to get from food alone so you may want to consider getting it in supplement form, especially in the winter. Many people who eat a high-processed food diet are lacking in iron, calcium and potassium.

So the moral of the story is, if you’re eating lots of fresh produce or drinking low-sugar leafy greens, you don’t have to worry about diligently scrutinizing food labels. At the end of the day, you should be eating real food 90% of the time. The ingredients should be easy to pronounce (salad, fish, Green Drink, brown rice), mostly consisting of plants.

Veronica cooking

Chef V cooking at her Joshua Tree retreat in 2021

Avoiding Added Sugars: What to eat

leaky gut

Added Sugars: the Maximum Amount Of Sugar You Should Be Eating Every Day

Stop reading this right now and go to your pantry. I want you to grab any product that has a Nutrition Facts label. After you’ve done that, come back to this article. I’ll be waiting to help you get healthier…

Got it? OK. Now, take a look at “added sugars” in the Nutrition Facts. Last year, the FDA required that all food manufacturing companies with sales of over $10 million list “added sugars” in the Nutrition Facts label. Smaller companies had to start complying with the new rule at the beginning of this year.

To make healthier choices for yourself (and your family) I want you to really start paying attention to added sugars on the nutrition facts label. One of the reasons why the FDA wanted “added sugars” added to Nutrition Facts is because there are dozens of nicknames for sugar. Unless an ingredient says “cane sugar” it can be very easy for consumers to overlook added sugars. Dextrose, maltodextrin, molasses, dextrin, agave, evaporated cane juice … These are just a few of the 56 secret sugars food manufacturers use to artificially sweeten food.

As a certified nutritional therapist, I’m glad that added sugars is finally on nutrition labels; it’s long overdue considering the pervasiveness of obesity and diabetes. But there’s a misleading problem with added sugars. Next to the amount of grams of added sugars is listed the percentage of daily value of added sugars.

added sugars

Percentage of Added Sugars In The Diet Should Be…

And while that may seem like a good thing to know, I consider this very misleading. That’s because if you’re trying to manage weight, blood sugar and inflammation, the percentage of added sugars you should have is ZERO!!!

If you’re eating real food then you’re consuming no added sugars. I understand that we’re only human. So if you want to sweeten your coffee or tea with a packet of low-glycemic coconut sugar, which is an added sugar, I can live with that. But when it comes to buying peanut butter, salad dressing, condiments, bread and the dozens of other foods and drinks that you purchase from the supermarket, make sure that the added sugars are as close to zero as possible. Because if you watch out for added sugars, your sugar intake is going to decrease and you'll be healthier.

leaky gut

Winning by Eliminating Added Sugars

I’m sure I’ve written about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) before so excuse me if I’m repeating myself. But it’s totally worth hammering in your brain how dangerous artificial sweeteners like HFCS are. In a nutshell, what HFCS and synthetic sugars like aspartame and sucralose do is block your brain’s ability to get the message from your stomach that you’ve had enough to eat.

Also, eating lots of fructose causes the proliferation of compounds in the body known as advanced glycation end products. These products have a very appropriate acronym: AGE. AGE-products accelerate the ageing process in the body.

It used to be that only alcoholics developed fatty liver disease. But now, because of the pervasiveness of fructose in the food supply, the rates of fatty liver disease in non-alcoholics is soaring.

It’s important to mention that I’m not talking about fructose from whole fruit. I’m talking about the cheap, synthetic artificial sweetener.

To me, it’s a little insane that the American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 6 teaspoons a day of added sugars for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Considering that high sugar intake leads to heart disease, you would think that the AHA would simply advise keeping added sugar intake to as close to zero as possible. You can feel better every day, just by watching out for those sneaky added sugars.

nutrition facts label

IMAGE ABOVE COURTESY US FDA

How Much Sugar Should I Have?

Hopefully, the next time the FDA revises the Nutrition Facts label, it will make it easy for consumers to know the maximum amount of sugar—keyword: natural sugars—they should eat in one day. Let’s do away with percentages because ain’t nobody got time to do the math when we’re in a rush.

So, FDA commissioner, in case you’re reading this, let’s prominently place the number of maximum grams of sugar per day that should be consumed.

And that amount is…

Well, in the past, the World Health Organization used to say that no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from sugar. Then the WHO realized that that recommendation was ridiculous, so they lowered it down to 5%.

The average American consumes roughly 80 grams of sugar a day. Keep in mind that’s average. There are certainly many Americans eating twice that amount. I realize that everybody is different biochemically and some people exercise more than others. But if you had to put a number on it, what is the max amount of sugar you should have?

For most healthy people, I would recommend 40 grams of sugar from whole food sources such as fruits and vegetables. And you will thrive.

Daily Sugar Intake For People With Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, you should probably limit your intake of total sugars to 20 grams per day.

Also crazy if you ask me is that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with diabetes should aim to get about half of their calories from carbs. That means if you eat 2,000 calories a day, 1,000 can come from carbs? What does the CDC think carbs convert into … magical unicorn fairy dust? Carbs convert into sugar. How can consuming half of your calories from carbs be considered smart blood sugar management? (It’s a rhetorical question; it’s not smart.)

In order to manage your diabetes, or even send it into remission, I recommend really upping your intake of natural, healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon, organic dairy, olives, olive oil, etc…

If you have type 2 diabetes, ignore the recommendation to eat a low-fat diet. Eating fat helps stabilize blood sugars and keeps you full, and prevents cravings for empty-calorie, blood-sugar spiking foods. “Fat” foods are not your friends, they are your metabolic friends!

The Leading Source Of Added Sugars

Beverages are the biggest offenders, accounting for nearly half of all added sugars. Obviously, soda is a big culprit. But what many people still don’t realize is how much sugar is contained in so-called “healthy juices.” You can drink healthier by checking the labels and making educated choices.

The big brand-name label juice companies that have been gobbled up by giant food conglomerates add a huge amount of sugar to their juices. And some of these juices at first glance appear healthy. They look green, loaded with green leafy vegetables. But if you take a look at the amount of sugar in the bottle, you’ll be floored.

I’m not one to name names, so I won’t throw the competition under the bus—even though they kind of deserve it because they are misleading people into thinking they are buying a healthy product when in fact it’s harming it.

Most store-bought juices contain 25, 30, 35 or even up to 50 grams of sugar per 16 oz. container!

Low-Sugar Nutrient-Dense Green Drink

If you’re looking for the healthiest juice possible, look no further than cold-blended Organic Green Drink with 7 leafy greens and only 6 grams of naturally-occurring sugar per 16 oz bottle.

© 2021 Chef V, LLC.