Kale and Kravings: How to read nutrition labels like a pro

In just a minute, you can make an informed decision about your snack choices

So, you walk into Munchie to get a snack. You pick up an apple, a protein bar and a sports drink, use a meal swipe and head out the door. In your next class, you munch on your snacks, sip on your drink and feel revived with new energy.

Do you know what you just ate?

Well duh…you ate an apple, a protein bar and a sports drink! But what is IN your Munchie purchases? How do you know what the best protein bar is? How are your purchases fueling your body?

A lot of information that we need in order to begin answering these questions can be found on the nutrition label on the back of your packaged foods. The US nutrition label has been through a few changes, most recently in 2016. While there is a lot of good information crammed onto each small panel, I like to focus on a just few key aspects.

Perhaps this may surprise you, but calories are the last thing that I look at…I am not about calorie or macro counting. Rather, I like to focus on the INGREDIENTS and the types of nutrients that I am putting into my body.

The first (and most important) thing to look at when choosing a packaged snack is the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order of mass. That means, the first ingredient makes up the bulk of the product. If some type of sugar is the first ingredient, you may want to say “thank you, NEXT”! The best rule of thumb for skimming the ingredient list is to make sure you KNOW what all of the ingredients are; if you can’t pronounce it, then you probably shouldn’t be putting it in your body.

The next line I look at informs you of the amount of  added sugar. Some natural sugars may be present in your foods. This can come from fruits and other carbs which are essential to provide energy for your muscles and brain. If there are other types of refined sugars in your food, then you will see this listed under “Includes X g Added Sugars”. The American Heart Association recommends that men limit their added sugar intake to 9 teaspoons (36g) and women limit theirs to 6 teaspoons (25g) (heart.org). Therefore, if you’re choosing a few sweet packaged foods, then you may be reaching your limit faster than expected. Instead of reaching for sweet snacks, try to pick snacks made from whole foods (fruits, veggies, nuts) or make your own homemade energy balls (found on www.instagram.com/kaleandkravings)!

The last things that I like to focus on is the carb to fiber ratio on nutrition labels. Fiber is a crucial aspect of our diets, and most college students aren’t getting enough! Fiber is important because it aids in healthy digestion, is associated with longer lifespan and helps regulate blood sugar levels. In a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, the recommended ratio of total grams of carbohydrate to total grams of fiber should be 10:1. This ratio is naturally found in many whole grain foods, so it’s always a good idea to check out the ratio on protein bars that may be made with oats and other grains. By doing some quick math, you can decide which snack will be the better choice for your body.

Obviously, there are a lot of pieces of information that can be found on nutrition labels, and when you’re picking a snack in Munchie, you probably don’t have tons of time to assess everything on there! Instead of stressing about grams of fat or total calories, look at what kind of ingredients are actually inside of that food. In just a minute, you can make an informed decision about your snack choices and choose the best fuel for your mid-afternoon Munchie run!

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