Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, or are just in it for the chocolate, there’s no denying that this past week [or three] has been filled with sweets and all things chocolate-stuffed, crème-filled + lots of cavity-making goodness. Yes, Hallmark enjoys this time of year too, but I think it’s the dentists who probably get the most retribution from it all. Don’t you agree?!
And while I love hiding eggs, decorating the house, and treating my kids to special treats as much as the rest of them, there are soooo many healthier alternatives out there these days that it really shouldn’t be a time of year that us “health nuts” have to cringe at! (Now don’t worry, this picture is of the candy Kenzley received at school, not what she actually ate! LOL)
Take my Keto Zucchini Brownies, for example?! Filled with veggies, antioxidants and healthy fats, they literally are healthy enough to eat for breakfast – and I usually do! Or my Vanilla-Infused Banana Cake? (I actually just posted this recipe). Covered in a Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting (that I literally never thought I liked until I made this one!), and filled with lots of healthy goodness, your kids will enjoy this “special treat” – and again, you can eat it for breakfast! Do you see a trend here?! Lol.
Hey, you can also buy tons of healthier alternatives if you don’t have the time or patience to make your own! Take the NuGo Slim Bars I recently wrote a review for, for example. Filled with protein, fiber and covered in real dark chocolate, these bars don’t just have to be for dessert! Just look at their nutrition label!
Which brings me to my point: If buying pre-made anything, you really need to look at the back of the package (aka, the Nutrition Label) to truly know if something is good for you or not. Yes, the front of packages will often claim all sorts of stuff – from being Organic and Vegan, to Low-Fat or Low-Carb – but these claims can be super misleading! To really breakdown the good, bad and ugly of store-bought treats, you need to actually look at their ingredients and know what all of those “grams” mean.
Decoding Nutrition Labels
- Look at the sugar grams. No, it’s not the calories or fat content you should be most worried about. The worst offender of store-bought treats (or even homemade if you’re not careful), is the sugar! If a product is packed with sugar, it will negate any of the positives it possesses in regards to fiber, protein, etc. And while all sugars are NOT created equal (with those from whole fruits, veggies, etc. not withholding here), an adult shouldn’t have more than 25 grams of added sugars per day, and children a mere 15 grams. And yes, you better bet that 1 Reese’s Peanut Butter cup has way more than that! [Did you know even ¼ cup of real maple syrup has a whopping 48 grams of sugar?! Yes, even natural sugars will fall into this “added” category]. Remember, sugar can be disguised under dozens of different names (as I originally wrote about in my Eat Less Sugar blog). So, just because “sugar” isn’t written under the ingredients, doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with the stuff!
- Serving Size. Yes, after I look at the number of sugar grams I look at the serving size. Some cookies (especially those big “protein cookies”), will contain 2 or 3 servings, even if it’s technically only 1 cookie. Muffins and other baked goods are often the same. So are bags of chips, pretzels, etc. This means that you need to multiply the sugar grams, calories, etc. by the number of servings. For example, if the cookie your about to scarf down says 2 Servings and contains 35 grams of sugar, if and when you eat the whole thing, you’ll actually be engulfing 70 grams! That’s almost 3-days worth!
- Fiber grams. This is generally the 2nd category I look at when dissecting a nutrition label (since Serving Size isn’t an actual category). No, not all foods will contain lots of fiber, but chances are that if a company went above and beyond to add fiber to their product, then they care about other nutritional facts as well.
- Protein. We all know America is obsessed with protein. In fact, many people get way too much of the stuff! However, if you’re eating a modest, plant-based diet, then finding proteins in baked and/or pre-packaged goods isn’t a bad thing – although it depends on where the protein is coming from…
- If it’s from soy: make sure the product is non-GMO, although Organic would be better.
- If it’s from whey: you want to go for Organic here as well, or at least grass-fed and non-GMO. If you have issues with dairy, avoid these products.
- If it’s from an egg: again, go for Organic.
- If it’s from pea, brown rice, hemp, etc.: these are all plant-based and my go-to sources, so eat away (in moderation, of course).
- Fats. Don’t be scared off from fats. Eating food with fat will actually slow down the digestion process, helping to avoid blood sugar spikes. However, if the fats come from the hydrogenated kind, steer clear. Fats from nuts, coconut oil, and other plant-based foods are generally fine, although high fat also correlates with high calories, which brings me to my next point…
- Calories. Eating food with a high caloric value isn’t an issue in and of itself – it just depends on what you’re going for. If it’s a meal and it only contains 400 calories, you could actually eat a 1 ½ servings and be ok. However, if it’s a snack and it contains 400 calories, I would probably recommend only eating 1/3 or maybe a ½, but definitely not the whole thing.
So, did you think that Calorie count was the most important aspect of a Nutrition Label?! Think again! I hope this helped to open your eyes a bit to the labeling factor of foods and to help you become more aware of all that goes into them – and how misleading they can be! And while yes, there are many other aspects to labeling, ingredients, etc. that are also very important, this info should set you off on the right foot and make dissecting food labels at least a bit easier for you.
With that said, labels truly are changing and companies are now mandated to include “Added Sugars” as a separate component of their labels. They also need to make the “Serving Size” and “Servings per Package” more obvious, so it’s harder to get misled. I hope this, along with a little more public knowledge of nutrition and ingredients will help make this world a little healthier.
Because it’s those small steps that make healthy living a lifestyle, so why not take one today?! And if you need even more help with understanding Nutrition Labels – or anything else for that matter – I’m here to help so Contact Me with questions!
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As always, thanks so much for following along with me on my Health & Motherhood journey! I appreciate each and every one of you because it’s YOU who makes this all worth it!