Welcome to the 9th habit in the #GiveMe30HabitProject!!
See this post for all the details and backstory!
This month’s habit is to read nutrition labels!
The purpose of this month’s challenge is just to gain awareness. It is not to cause you to pass judgment on any of the foods that you are eating. You also do not necessarily even need to make any changes to your nutrition during this time (unless you are ready to do so).
I also want to take the opportunity to clear a few things up. #MythBusting
First… The ingredients list. There are people out there who would have you believe that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient you should not eat it. While it is true that many chemicals, additives, preservatives, and fillers go by names that are difficult to pronounce, there are also perfectly harmless ways of making safe ingredients sound super complicated. You can also take things out of context when it comes to how they can affect things.
For example, the old dihydrogen monoxide parody. Say what?
Dihydrogen monoxide, also known as hydroxylic acid. Can you pronounce it? Did you know it can cause corrosion? That its consumption is heavily regulated? That it’s been linked to cases of suffocation. Are you sure you should consume it?
The answer is yes, you should. It’s water.
Seems silly I know. My point is valid though. Just because you can’t pronounce it does not mean that it’s harmful, and just because you can pronounce it does not mean that it’s beneficial or even safe.
Second… Please don’t fall victim to the “health halo” effect! Organic or non-GMO ingredients don’t always mean something is any healthier from a nutrition standpoint than the nonorganic counterparts for example. These are simply marketing tactics, especially with packaged goods.
I realize that when it comes to making changes, many people are in various stages of readiness. One of the easiest and least intimidating things you can do when it comes to making change is to simply collect data and train yourself to understand things. This way, when you are ready to make change, you will already be familiar with some of the concepts and ideas.
This is the reason behind why I chose this challenge to be part of the habit project. I want you to be familiar with reading labels. There are things such as serving size, ingredient quality and quantity, and nutritional information that are very useful to understand in order for you to be empowered to make better choices.
Nutrition label laws have changed and will continue to change with time. Most of the labels he currently see on the shelf will look like the first picture below, but they are udating to include other things as well. The second photo shows an example with an exclamation of changes.
Some of the basic things that are important are understanding serving sizes and portions. When you look at the nutrition label, it will give you the serving size and number of servings per container.
First and foremost, do not assume that just because something looks like it is one serving in a package that the nutrition label is for the entire package. Some things, like Lenny and Larry cookies (these also fall into the “health halo” category in my opinion) for example, have two servings per package (I’m referring to the full size cookies; I realize they have made single serving size now too). This can fool you into thinking that one package is a serving. They also seem to intentionally steer you to this by stating the number of grams of protein for the entire thing on the front of the package. But if you read the nutrition label, you only get half that amount of protein in one serving and you would have to eat two servings to get it. Which in turn would require a higher calorie consumption than what most people would be expecting. I don’t mean to pick on them, it’s just an example.
Usually the serving will be listed in quantity (meaning things like number of pieces or cup portions) and also in grams, ounces, mL, etc. The reason why this is important is because if you were to measure out a certain number of pieces of something like crackers, or something like a half cup serving of oatmeal, the actual volume weight may differ from the scale weight. So something like Mary’s Crackers for example says that you get about 13 per serving, but if you were to measure out the serving size in grams on the scale, you may get more or less depending on the size of the crackers. If you were to measure out a half cup of oatmeal, it likely would not be exactly 40 g if measured on the scale. For some people this is not important, however for others who might be tracking food intake and/or macros very meticulously, it can add up over time. It also can make a difference when you are utilizing certain items in cooking. I always recommend using a digital kitchen scale for measuring out wet and dry ingredients (even if you don’t care about nutrition content) so that you know your recipe will turn out the same way each time!
Most people understand calories, but another thing to pay attention to on nutrition labels are your macro nutrient amounts in grams. Macronutrients (or macros) refers to carbs, fat, and protein. If you were tracking macros, you want to see how much of each is in a serving size so that you can plan your day accordingly. Often times packaging will again be misleading by saying something is a “good source” of protein, but if you look at the label, it’s higher in carbohydrates or fats than it is protein. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, for something to be a “high-protein” food in my mind means that that would be the primary macro nutrient in the product (as opposed to what labels use to mean a good source). Some protein bars have more fat grams than they do protein grams. Again, it just depends on the type of diet that you’re following as to how this fits into your plan. I’m just making sure you’re aware!
When you look at fat, pay attention to and check for saturated fat and trans fat amounts. Avoid these, especially trans fats if possible.
When you look at carbs, pay attention to and check for fiber, sugars, and added sugars. Limit sugar when possible, and added sugar as much as possible. Sugar could be things found naturally in the food like fruit sources, but added sugar indicates that they have put in refined sugars.
Ingredients list (usually found underneath or next to the nutrition label) is ordered from the highest to lowest amount of the ingredients it contains. Whatever is listed first is the largest component of the product. This matters when you see things like added sugar in the first 5 ingredients for example. Just because something is listed towards the end and is found in more small or trace amounts doesn’t mean it’s ok if that ingredient is problematic. For example, xanhan gum might be listed towards the end, but even a small amount might cause some people GI upset (for others it may be tolerated perfectly fine).
One other note about labels and nutrition which I covered in this post, but will copy and paste here for the sake of simplicity:
You may or may not know it, but pre-labeled/packaged items are allowed to vary in nutrition information accuracy by as much as 20%. Meaning if it says 30g is 100 calories, it might actually be 120 calories.
Additionally, I’ve measured the volume for single serving things and seen them vary in volume by as much as 40% MORE than what the label says!! The other day, I had a single serving protein packet labeled as 25g, and it ended up weighing 35g. (That’s actually what gave me the idea to write this post!)
So think about that… if you were to use the whole thing. The actual nutrition value for the produce could potentially be 20% more calories than what is listed, and in this case, you are unknowingly consuming 40% EXTRA of the product than what you expected.
Why this matters… It adds up quickly for those trying to lose (or maintain) weight. For example, say you have an item that is listed as 100 calories and is 50 grams. It can vary by 20% in total calories, making it potentially up to 120 calories. Then, if you don’t know you consumed 40% extra, you could potentially be eating 168 calories instead of 100 when you factor in the actual nutrition value with the weight variance. I know it doesn’t seem like a lot. However, when you take this same thing occurring multiple times a day, it can add up quickly, especially for someone looking to lose weight by a modest approach of only a few hundred calories in deficit a day.
I recommend a digital food scale that measures in grams and ounces. I have one that lets me flip between the two.
OK, so now that you have an idea of what the habit looks in practice and the benefits of practicing it, it’s your turn! You don’t have to do every single one of these, but these are some ideas for you to implement.
For the next 30 days:
- Read the label of every item you consume (within reason to time constraints of course) and check the serving size, number of servings per package, general nutrition breakdown (calories, fat, protein, and carbs—also pay attention to fiber and added sugars), and read the ingredients.
- Practical Tips: start by reading labels of things you have in your house and then expand when you have time at the store or while outside the hone.
- Make a list of ingredients you aren’t familiar with to look up later.
- Practical tips: Set aside time daily or weekly to look them up on reputable sites.
- Ask a friend or your partner spouse to join you in this habit.
- Practical tips: Check in with one another and share your struggles so that you can help each other troubleshoot ways to overcome them.
- Make a mental note of how you feel and keep a written log of symptoms after you eat specific things.
- Practical tips: Try to identify correlations between foods you eat and nagging symptoms.
- Bonus: Start implementing changes and making improvements where you feel led to!
1/ What questions about food labels do you have?
2/ Do you usually pay attention to them?
Don’t forget to share this project with others! You can share the link to this blog post as a status/post on Facebook. Feel free to save and use the image from this post, or use the ones I’ll have on my Instagram page. Whatever other means you have to get more involvement will make this project more fruitful! Tweet, email, pin on Pinterest, etc.
Also, I encourage you to keep track of your journey and use the hashtag #GiveMe30HabitProject on social media. Please tag me in your habit progress and insights! I’ll also be glad to troubleshoot sticking points. I’m Kaci M Byrd Cheeseman on Facebook and @CheeseGirlPA on Instagram.
If you want to check in daily for accountability, you can post either a photo and/or status and use #GiveMe30HabitProject #Day1, #GiveMe30HabitProject #Day2, so on and so forth. I’d love to see how it goes and repost—only if you give me permission, of course! I’ll be searching the hashtag to see who is joining in.
Remember: What is it you want to achieve? Who do you want to become? How do you want to serve others? You may not know how to get there, or even how to get started. I just ask that you trust me and help spread the message to others so they can become involved. Keep showing up, and together we will get you there, one 30 day habit at a time!
Are you ready? Let’s get growing!!
P.S. If you are interested in working on a specific habit and need someone to help you troubleshoot, keep you motivated, and hold you accountable, I offer coaching a variety of ways, which you can learn more about here.
My specialty is habit change and my approach is to work on mindset alongside the habit, so that it is healthy and sustainable, and this is best done via 1:1 Coaching which you can learn about here. Whether it involves your health, finances, nutrition, exercise, relationships, or personal growth, habits are the key to success. We are the outcome of what we repeatedly do. Without addressing that, there can be no change. Learn more here!