Because I can't be the only one who doesn't know.
I have a secret to let you in on. Up until yesterday, I really didn't know how to read a nutrition label. By and large, I've never really struggled with my weight in a major way. However, I've started to come to terms with the fact that as a mature adult, I cannot just blindly continue to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. What I'm really trying to say is I can no longer get away with relying on genetics and metabolism to maintain a healthy weight. And to be more specific, it is high time for me to understand what it is that I am putting in my body. I am 24 years old and counting calories, restricting, and depriving is no longer going to cut it. If I really want to be healthy, it's about damn time that I learn how to read a nutrition label so that I can make more consistently informed decisions about what I eat.
If I was going to do this, then I was going to do it right. And in order to do so, I turned to the doctor who many of the most famous bods in the world turn to, Dr. Charles Passler. His clients include Bella Hadid, Adriana Lima, Sara Sampaio, Amber Valetta—it's more of a scroll of incredibly fit clientele, rather than a list.
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The first tenant the Dr. Passler impressed upon me is largely the most important. If it came from the earth, by and large, it's what you should be eating because it is good for you. But life doesn't always allow home-cooked meals, or even time to sit down to eat them. Sometimes you gotta eat something that has been processed (minimally processed is better.) And if you do, there are some things to know.
Look at the ingredients.
"If you are buying almond butter and you look at the ingredients, you should read, 'almonds' not hydrogenated vegetable oil," says Dr. Passler. If you see the word hydrogenated vegetable oil, you better make like a Charles and get in charge by putting that product right back on the shelf.
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Check the sugar.
The next thing to ask yourself? Whether or not there is any added sugar. "If there is added sugar, like high fructose corn syrup, it will raise your blood sugar and essentially set you up to gain weight," he says.
But here's another thing that I was completely unaware of—turns out, we should be wary of the term "natural flavoring." You're probably thinking, "Why, you said look for natural ingredients?" Well, my friends, "natural flavorings" is pretty much a Trojan horse. Dr. Passler explains, "natural flavorings could mean that it contains monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is really something that you should aim to avoid."
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Once you've sufficiently inspected the ingredients, be sure to pay attention to the serving size of whatever item you have chosen. You don't want to accidentally blow a large part of your day's necessary calories on an item that secretly has 12 servings in a single package, ya know?
Another key thing to keep in mind? The percentage of your daily value of sodium per serving. If it's really high, you'd best avoid it. "We need a maximum 2400 mg of sodium a day," says Dr. Passler. "Most people have too much sodium in their diets because they eat too many processed foods." As a lover of salt, I'd say that I most likely fall into this category. Guilty as charged.
OK, so you're trying pick a nutrition bar and the ingredients seem safe? Check. The servings per container isn't willfully misleading? Check. There's no added sugar or natural flavorings? Check. The sodium content isn't outlandish? Locked and loaded. But there's one last test your selection needs to pass before it gets the Passler seal of approval.
Look at the carbohydrate content and subtract the fiber content from that. Then, divide it by the protein content. "For a standalone item to be acceptable, the ration should be 2:1 or less. This way you know that it won't negatively impact your blood sugar by causing it to spike, putting you at risk for weight gain or putting unnecessary stress on your body."
One last thing to keep in mind is that sugar isn't necessarily the enemy. Dr. Passler reminded me that our brain functions off of sugar, and its the way you consume it that makes the difference. For example, the sugar in fruit is harder to break down and absorb and therefore, better for you.
Knowledge is power, and thanks to Dr. Passler, I'm feeling a lot more confident in my ability to make a sound nutritional decision for my meals. Now, who's with me?