>Read Your Label-

Learning how to correctly read a nutrition label is a critical step towards lifelong health and fitness. When you take the time to read labels on food you start to gain a better understanding of what you are putting into your body.

Now there are a wide range of pieces of information on a food label. You have total number of calories, macronutrient breakdowns including carbs, protein, and fat content. You have vitamin and mineral breakdowns. You also have the actual ingredient lists. All this information combines to give you a good idea of what you have going into your body. Depending on your fitness program this information is valuable data.

As you start, looking at labels is a conscious action. You are trying to master the content of your food. With time, you develop favorite brands and know what to expect.

Still, things can go wrong. And that’s when good habits can save your bacon. I was out earlier this week shopping for ingredients for a new recipe. One of the things require was soy yogurt. Now I’ve been working hard on learning how to improve my cooking overall. One thing this means is I’m supposed to follow the recipe. If I don’t, and then I don’t like what I make I can’t tell if it’s a case of me not making it properly. (Which is a highly likely event) On the other hand, it could be a case of missing something that provides a key taste component. So I have to make something 3 times before I decide it’s a wash.

Anyway, so back to the soy yogurt. I needed plain soy yogurt. I peruse the shelves of my local groceteria and find my faux dairy product. At twice the price of normal yogurt. Now I’m not a penny pincher, but I am trying to be conscious of my spending these days. So I start scanning the other yogurt products to see if there’s a better low cost option. All I’ve got is regular dairy plain yogurt. Looks like it’s a strike out. So I mutter and grab the soy. Now it’s soy and it’s plain. No brainer right? Healthy right? Out of sheer habit I flip the container around.

Calorie count is 140 calories. Which catches my attention. I know what I should be seeing for a “healthy” option and it’s closer to 80-90. 140 calories is a red flag. I check fat content- 3.5 grams. That only accounts for around 30 calories. Down I scan to carbs- where my eyes catch the offender. Sitting in my plain yogurt is 12 grams of sugar.

If you are familiar with dairy yogurt you know that plain means just that. Plain. Nothing added. Especially no sugar added. Now I’m not the sugar police. Far from it. I enjoy sugar. I just want to know when I’m getting it. I prefer to spend my sugar budget on things I enjoy. Like candy corn.

Did I mention plain means just that? PLAIN. My brother used to order his cheeseburgers plain. He’d specify PLAIN. Just cheese, meat, and bun. He did this because more often than not McDonald’s thought plain meant he wanted ketchup and mustard too. More than once his burger went back, or he’d dig out the mustard and ketchup parts. His kindly obligating sibling would be kind enough to eat the pickles for him. The ritual of watching him check his cheeseburger for offending condiments still produces giggles.

At this point in time, I’m channeling John. I start looking for mustard and ketchup in my yogurt. I find cornstarch, tricalcium phosphate, and natural flavors. Now again, these are not unhealthy things per say. BUT- I have this thing about my yogurt containing minimal ingredients. Ideally ones I can pronounce too. Anytime I see something saying, “natural” flavor added I’m not happy. This tells me that my product in it’s original form does not taste like something I wish to eat.

So I could spend $2 on soy yogurt that was hitting my “this food lies” buttons, or go for dairy yogurt that contained- drumroll please- milk and acidophilus cultures for 80 cents.

Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Again, I’m not anti-dairy replacement products. At this moment I have almond milk in my fridge that contains a couple interesting ingredients to keep it shelf stable. It’s also got the magical “natural flavor” tag. But my almond milk made no pretense of being plain. It also doesn’t have 12 grams of cane sugar sitting in it.

Get in the habit of flipping to check your label. Don’t assume something is good for you. Look at it, understand what’s in it, and make an informed choice. Remember, the power rests with you.