How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 2

 

Why doesn't this guy have a body?

What is %DV? This is the “percent daily value,” or the % of the total amount per day that one should consume for each nutrient.  For some nutrients (like dietary fiber and potassium), the DV is the minimum amount you should consumer per day.  For most other nutrients (fats, sodium, and cholesterol) the DV is the maximum amount you should consume.

Fat comes in several types:  the good, the bad, and the ugly. The terms “saturated” or “unsaturated” refer to bonding of hydrogen atoms to carbon atoms in a fat molecule.  When every carbon molecule is bound to the maximum number of hydrogen atoms, the fat is “saturated.”  If some carbon molecules are double-bonded to each other (and bonded to fewer hydrogen atoms), the fat is “unsaturated.”

  • The good:  Unsaturated fat. This is the “healthy” type of fat.  There are two types, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (don’t worry too much about the difference, it has to do with the number of carbon double-bonds in the molecule).  Unsaturated fat is typically liquid at room temperature, and you find it in plant-based products (like vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, etc).
  • What about Saturated fat? There’s a lot of conflicting studies out there on Saturated Fat, and it’s been vilified by marketing companies for years.  So what’s the truth?  Personally, I believe that saturated fat is an important nutrient that we need in our system.  I belong to the Mark Sisson school of thought when it comes to Saturated Fat, and thus consume more than the government recommends (and honestly, I don’t really trust their numbers!)
  • The bad:  Trans fat. There has been a good deal of hype about trans fat in recent years.  So what’s the deal?  Trans fat is technically an unsaturated fat, but the fat molecule has a different type of carbon double-bond that gets created when oil is “partially hydrogenated.”  Hydrogenation is a process used in food production to increase shelf life.  Why does all this matter?  The “trans” type double bond causes the fat to behave differently in the body, and NOT in a good way.  Trans fat can contribute to atherosclerosis as well as raising your bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol.  Keep your intake of trans fat as low as possible.

Cholesterol is the next big player on the list. Cholesterol is an important building block in cell membranes.  We get some from food, and some is made in the liver.  Cholesterol is mainly found in animal products, just like saturated fat.  Too much cholesterol also contributes to atherosclerosis, so watch your intake.

Sodium, and often Potassium, are also listed in this part of the Nutrition Facts label. These are electrolytes (refer to “what the eff is an electrolyte?”).  The main thing to watch here is sodium content.  Too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure.  The high sodium content of many prepackaged and canned foods may surprise you!

Carbohydrates include simple carbs (sugars, like glucose, fructose, dextrose) and complex carbs (fiber and polysaccharides).

Dietary fiber is great stuff! There are two types.  Soluble fiber is digestible and gets absorbed by your body.  This type of fiber helps lower your cholesterol and keeps your blood sugar levels stable.  Insoluble fiber is not digestible, so it stays in your GI tract and helps “keep things moving.”  Trust me, this is a good thing.  (Soluble fiber is listed on the nutrition label but insoluble fiber is not—just subtract soluble fiber from dietary fiber to find out the amount of insoluble fiber!)

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. It can be absorbed by your gut very quickly because it doesn’t need to be broken down by enzymes first.  Sugar is not necessarily bad for you, but taking in large amounts of sugar can cause your blood sugar levels to become unstable.

Other carbohydrate generally refers to other complex (large) carbohydrates in food, such as starch. These large molecules are broken down by enzymes into sugar, but the process takes a while.  Complex carbohydrates keep your blood sugar levels more stable than do simple carbohydrates.

Protein is one of the main building blocks for muscle and other body tissues. There is not a DV for protein because the amount of protein that each person needs is quite variable.  Refer to my previous blog on why protein is like playing tetris.

-Steve

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  • Ben

    Great post Steve. I think it’s really important to understand that not all fats are created equal. The heart directly uses fatty acids as a fuel source which is part of the reason why unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have cardiovascular benefits. Saturated fats have the exact opposite effect.

  • Ben

    Great post Steve. I think it’s really important to understand that not all fats are created equal. The heart directly uses fatty acids as a fuel source which is part of the reason why unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have cardiovascular benefits. Saturated fats have the exact opposite effect.

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Thanks Scruggs!

    I may be hitting you up in the very near future for a guest blog post, considering you know practically everything there is to know about the human body.

    -S

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Thanks Scruggs!

    I may be hitting you up in the very near future for a guest blog post, considering you know practically everything there is to know about the human body.

    -S