Whether you are single, in a relationship, a single father/mother raising your kids or a couple of parents trying to feed the unfeedable, we all struggle and wonder… How on earth can we eat healthy? Where do we start? Well, I will tell you now, educating yourself on the basics of nutrition is a great way to start your journey. Once you have basic nutrition knowledge you begin to understand why some foods are better than others. Learning about nutrition will set up a proper foundation for you to start your new journey.
Below you will find a list of goals set up for your first week as a Struggling Vegetarian. Goal 1 will be to master a nutrition label, and will give you some basic information on reading a nutrition label; from calories to ingredients. On page 2 you will find Goal number 2, which will be to increase your understanding of Protein, Carbs and Fats. And lastly Page 3 will contain Goal 3, which will be to understand the facts behind fiber, cholesterol, and saturated fats. I highly recommend you subscribe to our email list and follow us on all social media platforms for educational articles and updates moving forward.
The Learn section will broaden your knowledge on nutrition, and prepare you for a healthy life! Enjoy the lessons learned, and test yourself with a fun quiz at the end of each page. Feel free to Contact Us with any questions you may have.
Goal 1: Master A Nutrition Label and Ingredients List
The FDA requires all packaged food items to have a food label. And each food label must contain very specific items such as the nutrition facts which contains information on nutrients in the food (calories, fats, protein, etc.), an ingredients list to indicate what items are in the food, and even daily values such as the calories generally recommended for a healthy diet. The food label is very important for those hoping to lead a healthy lifestyle! Continue reading to learn how to read a food label, and to understand small details you may have never known about a food label. For a complete list of what is required to be on a food label visit the following web page published by the US Food and Drug Administration: Click Here
Topic 1: Understanding The Nutrition Facts
Nutrition facts are on every packaged food as noted above. It provides a preview of what you are ingesting. The nutrition facts helps you dictate what a high calorie or high sugar item is and allows you to COMPARE ITEMS of the same origin! For example, there are many brands of orange juice but the nutrition label will help you differentiate from 100% OJ versus OJ that is composed of high fructose corn syrup and orange food coloring. This is one of the most important sections for you to master if you want to successfully choose healthy foods while grocery shopping. Get started below!
First I should mention Daily Values, note box 6. Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. This is a bit tricky to understand, simply it means the percentages you see on the right of each nutrient are recommended values set by the USDA. For example, “It is recommended you eat about 275mg of carbs when consuming a 2000 calorie diet, therefore if this food containes 37mg of carbs you are consuming 13% of the recommended 275mg of carbs.” Typically these numbers are ignored because it is NOT recommended every patient eat 2000 calories but if you are one of the lucky people who should eat 2000 calories per day all you need to do is avoid going over 100% for each nutrient each day.
Next we will take a look at box #1 (green): Notice there are 8 servings in this package (or container), this means it can be split between 8 people.
The next item is the Serving Size which is the amount in the package 1 individual should have. In this example, the serving size is 2/3 cup. So, with that being said all facts after the green box are based on 1 serving or 2/3rd cup; if you eat the whole package you must multiply these numbers by 8, so 230 x 8 is a whopping 1840 calories! Woah! Depending on your calorie allowance for the day the serving can be adjusted, but eating this whole package would take away from other nutritious foods you need in a day, so I do not recommend this.
So now that you know what a serving is, you will see 1 individual serving contains: 230 calories, 8 grams of fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g of cholesterol, 160 grams of sodium, 37 grams of carbs (4g fiber, 12 g of sugars – this does not always add up to total), and 3 grams of protein
Take a look at box 4 (blue): This section shows there are 10 grams of added sugars in this food. If there is a number here, this means sugars were ADDED and are not originally found in the food. This will increase calories in the food item. As you will see when you learn about protein, carbs, and fats, each of these nutrients contain their own calories therefore increasing them in a food will increase your calorie intake and can put you at risk for excess weight gain.
Topic 2: Understanding the Ingredients List
The ingredients list tells us the most about what we are eating. The list is in order by weight! So this means the first ingredient composes most of the weight of the item. As you continue reading the item weight decreases.
While earning my degree in nutrition, all of my professors agreed “The more ingredients a food has the more processed the item is”. They felt all packaged items we consume should be limited to 5 ingredients. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, e.g. organic cereals, organic granola bars, or multigrain bread w/o added sugars and other additives. These items contain different nuts and grains that increase the ingredient count. So I say stick to the 5-10 ingredient rule. Use your best judgement consider avoiding ingredients that sound like chemicals, which are usually found in processed items and are called additives.
Additives are anything added to a food to preserve its quality, enhance it’s flavor or change/preserve the color. Now some additives are organic like beet juice for red color, but there are some items that are chemically processed and are allowed in small amounts within our food.
With that being said, you should not have to question items of the ingredients list. For example, on the label above you know that whole grain corn is nothing more than corn BUT what is Trisodium Phosphate??? It doesn’t take a nutritionist to know that this is not a typical food item. (Click here to learn more at Snopes.com a fact checking website, which provides a detailed response about this specific preservative: What is Trisodium Phosphate?)
The goal is that you know what each ingredient is, and if you do not know what it is Contact Us or good old Google for a definition of the additive. As you move forward educate yourself on the additives in your food, and you can decide whether you are willing to consume the item or not.
Topic 3: Understanding Calories
Now let’s talk about box #2 of the nutrition label in detail: Calories
Calories are in all foods in some way, shape or form! Protein, carbs, and fats are the only nutrients that contain calories, therefore your body breaks these nutrients down to create calories or energy to use!
Carbs contain 4 calories per gram, therefore when a food has 30 grams of carbs that adds up to 120 calories just from carbs. Protein also contains 4 calories per gram, and Fat contains 9 calories per gram. This proves a high fat, high protein, or high carbohydrate diet could cause weight gain if they are eaten in excess. All fad diets will restrict your calories whether it is a keto diet, low carb diet, or a balanced diet. Therefore, despite speculation calories are one of the most important aspects of a healthy and balanced diet!
Now, it is important to note, our body’s favorite form of energy is the Carbohydrate. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) indicate optimum levels of each nutrient recommended for optimal body function, and for carbohydrates that number is between 45-65% (▪) , for protein it is between 10-35% and for fats it is between 20-25%! I know what you’re thinking “WAIT, that’s a high percentage, aren’t carbs and fats the cause of my weight gain?”. Although this is what society has preached for years, it is not the case, the true cause of weight gain is increased calorie intake AKA overeating of carbs, proteins, and fats. Although you may avoid carbs, if you eat meat and fats in large amounts you are still bound to gain weight. This is where the balanced diet comes in.
Although calories may cause weight gain when consumed in excess, they also provide us with energy. Calories are the energy we harness for all actions performed by the body. Therefore, if we eat more energy (calories) than we use, then we store the energy (calories) for later. Unfortunately, calories will be stored as fat. The problem is, if you never use this stored energy, your body will continue to store more and more energy for a rainy day. Your body doesn’t realize it is doing you a disservice! Therefore it is important that we understand calorie intake, which differs among all individuals due to metabolism, and physical activity. We will discuss adult intakes below. Skip to the planning section if you would like to see the intakes for children.
General Calorie intake for Women to Maintain Healthy Weight
Naturally women tend to convert calories to fat much easier than men (thanks mother nature…) Business Insider has a great article on the amount of calories the average sedentary american eats daily – and that number is about 3600 daily. When you compare the numbers, it’s easy to see where we’re all going wrong. But generally, healthy calorie intake should be as follows based on activity levels: (This will be covered in more detail when you graduate to the planning section)
General Calorie intake for Men to Maintain Healthy Weight
Men tend to release fat easily when active, but when sedentary you’ll see men still need a large amount of energy to power their metabolism. BUT despite a man’s high calorie allowance, he tends to easily go over that number. One thing men must be aware of is the adverse affect weight gain has on their hormones. For example, testosterone levels may decrease as weight increases, therefore it is crucial for men to educate themselves on ways to prevent weight gain. (Read More) Refer to the same Business Insider article and you’ll find men are also consuming around 3600 calories daily. For general recommended calorie intakes for men see the table below: (This will be covered in more detail when you graduate to the planning section)
Another word on calories…
There are 3500 calories in a pound.
I know what you’re thinking! “Didn’t you just say the average American eats 3600 calories daily”
Yes I did, thank you for paying attention, so we are going to do some simple math (see algebra matters…):
If 30-year-old Mariah eats 3600 calories a day, but she is sedentary and should only have 1800, how many calories does she eat in excess? How many pounds will she gain?
- 3600 – 1800 = 1800 excess calories, now multiply that by 7 days in a week and you have 12,600 extra calories, multiply that by 4 and you have 50,400 extra calories in a month OR an extra 16.8 lbs in a month.
- Now realistically we do not all eat 3600 calories a day. Some days we eat 1600, some days we eat 3600, some days we eat 1900; but those days when you splurge, which may be 3-4 days a week OR more, those days will catch up to you.
So there you have it! Calories are a big deal so it is important we consume balanced meals daily to maintain calorie intake, and proper levels of protein, carbs, and fats.
CONGRATULATIONS YOU MADE IT TO THE END OF YOUR FIRST LESSON!
Now that you have made it through your first lesson, click here for your first quiz: Quiz 1
or continue on to Page 2 below.
*All of the information here is from the author’s ongoing nutrition education, and continued education via nutrition textbooks, eatright.org, and pubmed research articles that are not biased and have good accuracy. This information is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. This information is to be read and utilized at your own will, and the author is not responsible for any outcomes that come from utilizing this information. This information may be discussed with and adjusted by your dietitian, nutritionist, or medical provider for a more personalized plan. If you have any questions feel free to contact us via the Contact Page. For sources Click Here.