You might think the first step to eating a healthier diet would be to consume more vegetables or increase your protein intake. But actually, the very first thing you should do is something fairly simple yet surprisingly important: Learn to read nutrition labels!
When we start our clients on a medical weight loss plan, or just help them learn about anti-aging foods and prevention of chronic disease, we often advise them on things like the number of calories, amount of protein, or fats and carbohydrates that they should be eating each day. Then of course there are a number of other nutrients that we need to stay healthy and ward off health problems. But how will you know how much you’re eating of each nutrient, if you don’t know how to interpret those confusing nutrition labels?
So, let’s start there. Next time you read a nutrition label, focus on the following parts.
Serving size. This is incredibly important, because serving sizes are often not what we imagine! You might see a relatively low number and snack away, without realizing you’ve just consumed seven servings of crackers, chips, or another food. Learn to read this part of nutrition labels first.
Servings per container. Glancing at this part of the label can help you adjust your expectations around snack servings. Often we think a whole box or bag is a serving or two, when in reality the container might represent a dozen or more servings!
Calories. This is the amount of energy that a food contains. On a medical weight loss plan, we will establish an allotment of daily calories that you should consume, so this number becomes very important.
Protein. If you follow a protein-focused plan, look for foods that contain at least half as much protein (in grams) as they do carbohydrates.
Fat. The label will tell you how many grams of fat a food contains. But it’s even more helpful to look at the type of fat. Unsaturated fats are considered healthy in moderation, whereas you want to avoid saturated fats.
Carbohydrates. Your doctor will probably tell you to stay below a certain number of carbs per day (in grams). And you will likely need to differentiate between added sugars and fiber, too.
Food labels can feel like a pain at first, especially if you’re not a big fan of math. But over time, you will learn to be more intuitive about serving sizes, nutrients, and calorie counts. A medical weight loss plan becomes easier and easier to follow as you learn… But give us a call if you have any questions, and we’ll be happy to help with your eating plan.