By: Shawn Jang (NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NASM-FNS, NASM-WLS)
Knowing how to read nutrition labels is a great way to keep track of the number of calories and amount of food you are putting into your body. For instance, many people pour cereal into a bowl without weighing the portion using a food scale or taking into account how much a serving size is. This often leads to filling the bowl to the top or having as much cereal as you would like. Without being cognizant of how many calories you are actually pouring into your bowl, many people end up eating more calories than they should, resulting in weight gain. To help you avoid that, we will walk through a sample nutrition label, so you can get one step closer to achieving your fitness goals, whether that is losing body fat, building muscle, or maintaining your current body weight.
The sample nutrition label below is from a cereal box. The things we will focus on, going from top to bottom of the label, are serving size, calories, total fat, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein.
Serving Size – ¾ cup (29g)
One serving size of cereal is ¾ cup or 29 grams. We recommend using a measuring cup or a food scale to accurately see how much one serving size actually is. Knowing how much one serving size amounts to is important because all the items on a nutrition label is based off of one serving size. For instance, one serving size of cereal has 120 calories.
Calories – 120
One serving of cereal has 120 calories. That may not seem much, but most people do not eat just one serving of cereal. One person can easily have 3-4 servings, which adds up to 360-480 calories. Those calories also do not include milk, which most people enjoy pairing with cereal. If you include ½ cup of skim milk, as the nutrition label reads, that adds an additional 40 calories per serving to your breakfast.
Total Fat – 3g
One serving of cereal has 3 grams of fat. Among the macronutrients of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, which make up the total calorie count of every food, fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient, consisting of 9 calories per gram of fat. In other words, the 3 grams of fat from one serving of cereal make up 27 calories of the cereal. Fats are important because they help you absorb essential vitamins, insulate your body, and produce important hormones.
Total Carbohydrate – 22g
One serving of cereal has 22 grams of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your main source of energy, so getting adequate amounts of good quality carbs are important to giving you energy for the day or before an intense workout.
Dietary Fiber – 1g
One serving of cereal has 1 gram of fiber. Fiber is important because it helps with digestion, cleans your colon, and keeps you feeling full longer. This cereal does not have a lot of fiber per serving, which is why many people do not feel full after eating cereal, causing them to eat additional calories soon after. It is recommended that men get 30-38 grams of fiber in their diet every day, while women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day.
Sugars – 9g
One serving of cereal has 9 grams of sugar. If you have 3-4 servings of cereal, total sugar intake spikes to 27-36 grams. Most Americans consume sugar levels way above the recommended amount, which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight gain. Men should have no more than 38 grams of sugar per day and women should limit sugar to just 25 grams per day.
Protein – 2g
One serving of cereal has 2 grams of protein. Protein has 4 calories per gram of protein, just like carbohydrates. Protein is important because your body uses protein to build and repair tissues and are the building blocks of bones and muscles. Getting adequate protein in your diet is very important, especially for those who exercise. All forms of exercise break down muscle fibers to some degree, so fueling your body with enough protein helps repair those fibers.
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