“After Vinyasas yoga class, let’s ride our bicycles over to the whole-foods store and spend our leftover money from the “Save The Bees!” convention and buy some all natural herbal tea to drink later when we watch Zeitgeist while the sage clears the bad vibes out of the air, maaaaan.”
Sounds like the fulfillment of all your yuppie dreams! However, you can never complete your training as a health nut (and forget about ever being a foodie!) if you don’t know how to read labels. I know, “Labels aren’t my thing, man.” When it comes to food though, it’s pretty dope how much of a difference a little bit of knowledge can make.
Even if you don’t do yoga, have dreadlocks, or faithfully grow your own veggies in the backyard, you can still take it upon yourself to take care of your body, and reading labels is where your healthy body starts. Choosing what food to eat is important in the same way that choosing which article of clothing to buy is important. If you don’t take about 3.5 seconds to figure out what size it is, you could get the wrong size! If you don’t take about 5.7 seconds to read the label on the food you buy, you could buy the wrong kind! Not that what you choose based on an informed decision would be wrong, but if you don’t understand what you are buying, and then putting into your body to affect your organs and systems and perceptions and overall quality of life, then you can’t KNOW if it’s the right decision or not. In other words, labels for liiiiiiife! So hold onto your hummus my neo-hippy homies, let’s learn about labels!
IF YOU’RE READING THE FRONT OF THE BOX TO FIND OUT WHAT’S INSIDE, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. The front of the package is for advertising, but the back is where the juicy information is to find out whether the food is a perfect fit for you or not.
The first place to look is the beginning; a FINE place to start! On nearly every food label you will look at, right under where it says, Nutrition Facts, it says the serving size.
Follow the serving size. If it says there are two serving sizes in one box then only eat one now, and eat the other later. It is that easy. Limiting portion control is a huge aspect of health, and all you have to do in order to do that is understand how much food should be on your plate, then only put that much there. Got it? I know that you do :)
However, according to M.D. Mark Hyman, myself, and most individuals who are educated on the subject, calories aren’t the most important thing to focus on. If you eat 500 calories of chocolate, it’s worse than eating 500 calories of nutrient-packed spinach. So there is something else more important going on than calorie-counting.
This is the part of the label that is directly below the calorie count. This is where you will gain the knowledge to start choosing choosing the quality of food that you deserve. The percent-daily values, established and defined by the FDA, are split up into two categories: Daily Reference Values (DRVs) and Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs). The DRVs are the the total fat, saturated fat, cholestorol, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sodium, potassium, and protein. The RDIs are used to measure the vitamins and minerals. Both of these values are represented per serving size, not per package of food.
Simply taking the time to read the daily values before you ingest your food is a powerful tool to gain control over your health, and hopefully to choose a healthy lifestyle. Once you start becoming familiar with the daily values, you might think twice about eating two slices of cake with 3 servings in each slice, with 50% daily value of fat in each serving every night before bed. Just like you might not buy that shirt if you try it on and realize that you don’t like the way it makes your shoulders look. Fashionistas know that you can’t walk out of the store without trying the shirt on, and informed individuals know that it’s important to understand the amount per serving, as told by the label! Applying the knowledge and looking fabulous is all on you.
The last portion of the label is the ingredients list.
This is the most important part for someone who wants to look and feel good. The ingredients are listed in order of amount that the food is composed of overall. If you look at the ingredients on your favorite drink to pick up at the gas station, I can almost guarantee that one of the first ingredients will be high fructose corn syrup. Even if the drink claims to be nutrient-packed, that doesn’t change the fact that the drink is mainly made of sugar water with a little bit of crushed up B-vitamins in it, and you can find this out for yourself by taking a few seconds to read the ingredients. Many labels will have 20-letter long words near the end of the list that look like they should be on your shampoo bottle. Those are typically preservatives that will allow stores to keep food on their shelves for longer. As a general rule of the thumb, the less ingredients a label has, the more natural and less processed it is. If you are looking for good food that will nourish your body and not just provide sustenance, don’t eat a list of chemicals! If you want to know what you are really buying and about to absorb into your body and mind, the ingredients list is where to look.
This was a brief look at labels! Living a healthy lifestyle is made of tons of tiny threads all weaving together to create a beautiful piece of art that expresses who you are and makes you look good at the same time. Whether you are eating top-quality, nutrient-packed food that will strengthen your body and mind, or sugar filled, high-calorie food is up to you. Either way, you deserve to understand what you are eating, and understanding labels is a great place to start.
Whether you ride your bicycle around town or cruise in a gas-guzzling 4×4, wear flow pants that your friend of a friend who lives in Cali made, or buy expensive jeans from the mall, understanding food labels is a great start to incorporating a healthy lifestyle into your routine. So the next time that you’re grocery shopping, remember to look at the label before you leave, and you can walk out feeling fabulous.