I read them every day; I use them to make informed decisions about how many calories I’ll eat in a day, be they loosely regulated or rigidly scheduled. Nutrition labels are filled with lots of valuable information that may leave us feeling we’ve just tried reading the Deep Sea Scrolls.
Here’s a closer look at what’s on the label, and how I personally decipher this information:
This is what the rest of the label follows. A serving size is a unit of measurement that can range from grams or ounces, to number of chips or even comprises the whole of the item. It takes a simple measurement and quantifies that over a reasonable number of portion sizes. So if you’re adding a water flavoring to your drink, the box may say “1 packet”; or eating a frozen dinner, it may be say “1 dinner”; and if you’re eating a Zebra, it may say “1 stripe.”
Servings Per Container
This tells you how many of those servings are in this product. So if it’s a Zebra, a serving size may be “1 stripe” and it may say “Servings Per Zebra: 26”. Now you’ll know as you follow the label how many stripes you’ll be eating when you bite into that Zebra.
A Calorie is a unit of energy, and that energy fuels your body. This energy is made up of Macronutrients (nutrients that provide energy) and those are Fats, Carbohydrates, and Protein. These Macronutrients are measured in Grams. Fats provide 9 calories per gram, while Carbohydrates and Protein provide 4 calories per gram. As you can see, Fats are fairly calorie dense and provide a lot of energy, while protein and Carbohydrates are less dense. What you won’t see are Alcohol calories, and each gram of Alcohol is 7 calories—of not very useful energy!
A metaphor for calories could go like this: calories are energy just like gasoline is energy. Cars have a gas tank and it can be filled with fuel. A car’s tank has a limit, but anything more and it spills out. Humans, on the other hand, have a fuel tank like a water balloon that doesn’t pop—it can fill and fill and fill. If we want the balloon to stay a certain size (aka, us), we don’t overfill it. And if we want to shrink that balloon (aka, lose weight), we let some stored water out. If we’re not careful, we’ll stretch that balloon so much that, while we can empty it, it’s much easier to fill back to its previous largest size!
When we think of weight management, we should remember that our bodies use energy every day just existing—by being more active, our bodies use more energy. And by eating, we replace that lost energy. If we want to gain weight, we intake more energy than we lost. If we want to lose weight, we intake less energy than we use. That way, we use whichever stored energy is available (think of our bodyfat as energy storage).
That’s all for now—stay tuned for Pt. 2: Daily Value, Fat, Cholesterol, and more!