"When you encounter difficulties and
contradictions, do not try to break them,
but bend them with gentleness and time."
Saint Francis de Sales
Nutrition 911, Part III: 5 Quick Steps to Mastering Food Labels
By Steve Edwards
Welcome to part III of our oh-so basic nutrition class. So far, we've discussed marketing slogans and how they can affect your eating habits. Part I addressed the terms organic, grass fed, free range, and farm raised. Part II analyzed the ever-popular "fat free" and trendy "low carb" slogans. If we've made one conclusion, it's that we need to understand food labels in order to eat properly. Since we probably won't scrutinize each item we toss into our shopping cart, let's take the CliffsNotes approach.
Today's lesson: How to judge a food in 15 seconds or less!
You should learn how to read a label in depth because sometimes that's the only way to tell what you're really eating. Denis Faye wrote a great piece in issue #101 last year, explaining this process in detail. He dissects a label from top to bottom, something you should eventually do with each of the staple foods you buy.
When in a rush, however, you can still greatly benefit from a cursory glance at a label. I can't tell you how many times I've decided to "just make sure" an item was as healthy as it appeared, only to find out it had an appalling amount of something I had no interest in eating. Here is my quickie checklist. These five steps will barely take enough time to slow the movement of the product from shelf to cart and will more than make up for it by extending your life on the back end.
||1. Trans and saturated fat. In the USA, all packaged foods come with a Nutrition Facts label. The first place my eyes go is to the fat content. I draw my personal line in the sand at trans fat. We don't need it, and there is always another food option without it. Trans fat is man-made fat that comes from dubious preparation processes. If an item has any, it goes back on the shelf. Next, I look at saturated fat. We don't need much of it, and if we eat meat or dairy products, then we probably have met our requirement without it being in our other foods. Next to the number of grams, you'll see the percentage of your daily requirement it contains, eliminating the need for math. If that number is high, be wary. Of course you must evaluate what you're buying. Olive oil, for example, is a fat, so it's going to have a high number. However, you don't use much. Potato chips, on the other hand, would have a lower number, but you might eat the entire bag, so you should consider that. But that's obvious stuff, right?
||2. Sugar. The grams from sugar are listed right below "Carbohydrates" near the top of the label. Get instantly suspicious if this number is high. Sports foods are supposed to have sugar because you want to quickly replace blood glycogen lost during exercise. All other foods don't need it. If you're buying a dessert item, you'll expect a high ratio of sugar, but for anything else you're probably getting a cheap product that's poorly produced. Remember that many "low fat" foods have a lot of sugar because it's not technically fat. It just makes you fat.
||3. Sodium. Prepared foods are usually laden with sodium and you'll find the amount in plain sight high on the label. Often times, you can find an "organic, nonfat, low carb" purely healthy sounding food item that has over 1,000 mg of sodium, which is around half of your daily requirement. What you're generally looking for from these 3 "s" ingredients are a low number, and it only takes a few seconds to figure it out.
4. Fat, protein, and carbs ratio. Here's your first math test, but it's a simple one. When choosing a food, you probably already know a few things about it. If it's butter, you'll expect all fat; candy will be high in sugar, and things that sit on a shelf may have a lot of sodium. For meals, however, you'll want to take a quick notation of the amount of fat, protein, and carbs. If you're on a strict diet, this ratio is very important but if you're not, you just want some balance. A nice round number is 40% carbs and 30% protein and fat. You can then assume that your prepared "meals" would be better if they reflect a similar balance. Proteins and carbs have 4 calories per gram, and fats have 9. So you want the number of fat grams to be less than the other two. A quick method is to use a 1:2:3 ratio, with fat being 1, protein 2, and carbs 3. Let's visualize for a sec.
Pick up a pack of frozen low-fat chicken burritos, flip it over, and eye the Nutrition Facts label:
Now let's analyze. Since we're shopping for a meal that's low in fat, it's probably because we know that we get enough fat somewhere else in the day. Most of us have no problem getting fat in our diet, so this would be normal. A quick glance at the fat and sugar content leads to a big thumbs up. Notice I've skipped looking at calories. That's because it's calories per serving. We may not know what a serving is and, remember, we want to do as little math as possible. We can just assume we'll eat in servings, so that's what we're analyzing. You will want to check what a serving is later but, for now, we're tying to buy healthy foods and not determine how much of it to eat. Next is sodium, which we expect to be a bit high because it's a prepackaged food. As one of five meals in a day, 500 mg is 20% of the RDA (they do the math for you), which is fine. Finally, the burrito doesn't follow the 1:2:3 scale, but we were already expecting this to be off because it's "low fat." The protein-to-carbs ratio of 12 to 20 seems pretty close to 2 to 3, so check it off. How close is "close"? There is no rule, but if the numbers were, say, 10 and 60, we might look for something else, unless this was to be served with a pure protein dish. Total time investment, so far, about 10 seconds.
- Fat: 2 g, Sat fat .5 g, Trans fat 0 g
- Sugar: (Look under Carbohydrates and see nothing. This means there is no sugar.)
- Sodium: 500 mg
- Fat: 2 g, Carbohydrates: 20 g, Protein: 12 g
5. Length of Ingredients list. Now just take a quick glance at where it says Ingredients. If it's under about 10 items I won't even look at it. If it's so long that I don't want to spend the time reading it, I put the item back because I know this will mean a long list of things I can't pronounce, and I don't want to eat things I can't say. If it's somewhere in the middle, I may take a closer look and exceed my 15 seconds but, in general, I keep this act simple. There are a few "evil offender" ingredients that people tend to look for, but we've covered them. By checking off the trans fat, sugar, and sodium above we're assured there won't be any MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils down here already.
By adding a mere 15 seconds per item, you may not have the perfect diet, but you can certainly make sure it's not terrible. This is not an exact science, but your diet doesn't have to be either. Eat better, and get more exercise. Beyond this we're nitpicking. Sure, we're talking CliffsNotes fitness only. Unfortunately, that's often all we have time for. Fortunately, it's more than half the battle.
And speaking of time, that's it for today. Next time, we'll talk about your sweet tooth and how to deal with it, and take a look at how artificial sweeteners affect your diet.
Back to top.
Congratulations to Our New May Video Success Story: Jimmy F.
"While I was never overweight or had a lot of pounds to lose, my Beachbody experience has meant much more than that. It has been a change of life and lifestyle. I could never have imagined I'd be this fit and strong at 39! And everything I do now is more funthe improvement to my golf swing alone has been awesome!"
See his "Before" photos, and read his Success Story.
Back to top.
The Gadfly Report
The "society column" of Team Beachbody, showcasing examples of great results, support, and commitment within the Beachbody community.
Hats off to OLIVEOIL. Her threadOO's FamilyandFriendsstarted back in October and has since taken off. She's seven pages deep and started a charge back at the beginning of April to get on the fast track to losing the weight she gained from quitting smoking. STUFAWEN, SDSCARE, WDKEELY, JACKIE25, and NOMOREFATGIRL are giving great support. ZIPDAD, the proud papa whose boys are hitting Power Half Hour almost as much as he is in order to get that 6-pack, seemed to be the lone male in a thread of "Angels"but he didn't seem to mind much.
Towards the end of April, OLIVEOIL used her expert picture-posting skills to help members of her thread show their amazing resultslike STUFAWEN's day 1 and 165 shots. She didn't stop there. She has become the picture poster for the groupand not only for Team Beachbody veterans. JEDIPAUL was looking to join the thread and OLIVEOIL was there for himposting his "before" pics and getting him motivated. Now he's a regular. She then used page seven to post pics of the group, as well as family and other friends who are success stories. QTRHORSEGIRL, SCOMIGI, YOUNGRYAN (ZIPDAD's son), DIVAM (amazing pics), SKILL, and RYANRT (in efforts to lure him backcome back RYANRT!) all had their pics posted. This group, as tight as they are, also welcomes newbies with open arms. HOLIDAYINSPAIN asked to join the group weeks before her Power 90® even arrivedlooking to lose her goal of 82 pounds. SDSCARE was theregetting up at 4 AM to post a big welcome for her. TRIKKYRIK only had to wait an hour or so before getting his welcome from STUFAWEN. What a thread. There are recipes and all kinds of motivation here so stop by and check them out. Nice job, OLIVEOIL!
A few quick Sizzle hits . . .
MARYCECY, congrats to your son, and keep those 3 AM workouts going. Hope your schedule changes soon.
Beachbody's Mike Karpenko is making the news againand not just for his Oatmeal Egg White Pancake recipe. His Beachbody Power Week got a rave review from MRTH, who had his eyes opened about the power of WOWY Success Buddies: "The Power Week made me realize something I need to thank you for. I wasn't using the buddy system at allI figured my WOWY page was enough incentive. I was wrong. Power Week showed me how valuable Buddies arestarting with DEMAIO, BOBSLEDR, LISAG, GOAL120,HEAVENUP, NADINE13, and then MIKEYE, BARBARA, and BLAZE. Mike's May Madness gave me the incentive to set a schedule and keep it. This is a new beginning for me . . . my goal is to continue long after you are no longer crazy mad in Mayif that's possible." BETSYB also told Mike, "Just wanted you to know that I haven't stopped WOWYing since before your Power Week! Don't think I've missed a day yet this year!" Also, check out KOKO in action on the one-legged squats . . . now that's X-style, and the recipe for Rabbit Kabobs! It's all on Mikey's thread.
And what can you say about BUFFLYNCH? She just continues to blow us awaysee her pics on her thread Buff is joining the BIG DOGS!!! It's 61 pages deep! Now she's doing a 30-minute wall squat! BRING IT!
Tony Horton's "Pumped in Portland" camp has wrapped up thanks to the help of WARD5000. Judging by the pics, I'd say they had a good time. Looks like SOCCERBABE17's daughter was so inspired, she's going to do P90X®. Congrats to all who attended and looking forward to the big East Coast bash in July, and then on to Santa Monica in August. And you can count on this: the Gadfly will be watching!
Back to top.
By Denis Faye and "Chef Pierre"
It would appear that Chef Pierrerecipe-makeover fever is going crazy! Now we have chefs with their own makeovers. And, according to Chef Pierre, some of these recipes are "not bad. Almost as good as those created by me, Chef Pierre."
Chef Adrian J. writes in with a revamp of Chicken Cacciatore, something he claims that "with all the frying and breading, the nutritional value is just BLAH." So we decided to show it to you and then let Chef Pierre comment on it.
3 lbs. chicken breast (cut into large, equal-sized chunks)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
16 oz. quartered artichoke hearts
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup mushrooms
1/4 cup red or white wine
Roughly 2 cups zucchini, broccoli, bell pepper, or any other desired veggies!
Crushed red pepper (to taste)
1 Tbsp. rosemary
1 Tbsp. oregano
Step 1: Heat one tablespoon olive oil in large skillet. Sauté onion and garlic. Once tender, add artichokes, mushrooms, and other desired veggies. Add crushed red pepper, rosemary, and oregano. Slowly add wine in cycles, allowing the wine to absorb and evaporate in between. Once all wine has been used, remove mixture from the pan and reserve to the side.
Step 2: Heat remaining olive oil in large skillet. Add chicken in a single layer, browning each side. Do not "overcook" your chicken; it will continue to cook in the following steps. Add diced tomatoes and cover (about 15 minutes). Add sautéed vegetables from step 1 and stir until well incorporated.
Serves 9 people. Best over a bed of brown or wild rice with a green salad.
Chef Pierre's comments: Overall, quite acceptable. I, Chef Pierre, was quite impressed until "Step 2." Here, I, Chef Pierre, have something for Chef Adrian to consider. The chicken is still being fried and this, we wish to avoid. So, instead, lightly grill the bird until the center is no longer pink. Meanwhile, warm tomatoes on a nonstick skillet, using low heat. Add chicken to the tomatoes and cover for 15 minutes. This is a much healthier option.
Nutrition Facts per serving (with Chef Pierre's adjustments)
||Protein 51 g
||Fat 8 g
|Carbs 21 g
||Fiber 8 g
||Saturated Fat 2 g
Would you like more recipes? Log in to TeamBeachbody® to enjoy more healthy recipes made with fresh ingredients that will give you energy and motivate you to stick with your diet.
Not a Team Beachbody Club member yet? Just click here to learn how to join.
Back to top.
Tip of the Week
Vegetarians, Get Your Protein!
By Steve Edwards
People trying to increase lean muscle mass without eating more animal protein can run into a problem because the primary sources of options (legumes, tofu, etc.) all have fairly high percentages of carbohydrates. A simple means of assuring that you get enough protein is to take supplemental protein. Most of what you will find on the market is either soy, whey, or casein, the latter two being the components of milk protein. It's now possible to find more vegan-friendly options, like hemp and rice protein. In analyzing these sources, you will see how you can tell which would suit your lifestyle best. Hemp, in particular, is a great protein source that also has fiber and essential fatty acids.
Back to top.