Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Part 2, Lesson 3: Reading Labels

Part 2: "I Don't Know Anything About Food"
Lesson 3: Reading Labels

I mentioned in the last post that you need to read labels to find things that won't kill you quite as fast.  There's one easy rule of thumb you can stick with: only buy things with recognizable ingredients.

But if you're worried about your weight and health in general you can take it a few steps further.

Sugar's natural, right?  Sure, kinda, in a really industrial, refined way.  Sugar on a label can mean cane or beet sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, honey, and about 20 other different things.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the average person (eating 2,000 calories a day) shouldn't get more than 40 grams of refined sugar a day.  That's about 10 teaspoons.  To put it in perspective, your average can of pop has 40 grams of sugar in it.

Corn Everywhere
Corn is all over convenience foods like a rash.  Considering corn is little more than sugar wrapped in fiber with a few vitamins and minerals mixed in, no wonder we're all so fat.  Here's a list of some of the things corn can be made into. 

When the FDA is considering actually regulating the amount of salt in American food, you know there's a problem.  The recommended daily allowance is less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day.  That's ONE teaspoon of table salt.  Per day.  Take a look at some of the labels on food in your pantry.  You will be horrified.

Fat is confusing.  Some fat is good and essential for health.  But only unsaturated fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated).  The RDA is around 65-70 grams a day, or no more than 35% of your daily calorie intake.  There are 13.5 grams of fat per tablespoon of olive oil.  2 ounces (2 servings, or a little less than half the can) of Pringles has 20 grams of fat.

Ah, calories.  The big, bad, scary number. You can do any number of Internet searches for various calorie-counting diets and such, but if all that's overwhelming I'll break things down for you.  The average person who's not on a diet should get around 2,000 calories a day.  If you eat three meals a day, that's around 667 calories that you can divide between each meal.  Now throw in two snacks a day of around 200 calories each and each meal goes down to 533 calories each.  It's really easy to eat 533 calories in a meal.  This is, of course, a rough guide.  I personally tend to eat a big breakfast, a lighter lunch, and a big dinner.  I aim for between 1200 and 1500 calories a day but I don't count each calorie obsessively anymore.  I know that if each meal is around 500 calories then I'm doing OK.

The Takeaway 
I just threw a ton of numbers at you, and for that I apologize.  Don't ignore them completely, but remember that the most important thing to look for when reading labels is finding recognizable ingredients.

Your Homework
Hey, remember back in week 1 when I told you to take a meal's worth of the convenience food you had in your pantry and put them in a box in your basement?  Have you gone down there and used any of it?  It's time to do the same thing again.  Go back through your pantry and take out another meal's worth of convenience food.  Put it in that box.  Now get out your RFBC Journal and start reading the labels on the stuff in your Big Box O' Crap.  Write down the products with the highest numbers for the following nutrition facts: calories, fat, and sodium.

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