Choosing between McDonalds, Starbucks or Subway might be the toughest dietary choice you’ve had to make recently. But for the rest of us who struggle with interpreting the nutrition information and data on a nutrition facts label at the super market, it often feels like we’re reading an ancient manuscript. That’s why our expert nutritionist Jason Apfel, at Lucas James Personal Training, has broken down food labeling into a few simple steps so you can easily understand all that nutrition mumbo-jumbo!
If you’re concerned with maintaining a healthy body weight, the most important nutrition fact to note is proper serving size and portioning for each food or meal. With this in mind, the first place to look on the nutrition facts label is the serving size and the number of servings per package. Why is this so important? Well, while you may be eating healthy foods, it’s just as important to eat the right amount of food to ensure healthy weight maintenance, weight-loss or growth, all of which depend on your total daily calorie intake.
Remember, when you take in more calories than your burn throughout the day, even when engaging in exercise, you’ll gain weight. Vis-versa, if you eat less than you burn, you’ll loose weight. When weight-loss is concerned, you need to reduce your calories by a total of 3,500 calories per week, or 500 each day, to loose one pound of body weight. You can keep track of calories through noting the proper serving size on any food product package. Serving sizes are now standardized for similar foods to make it easy to compare like-products. The measure for serving size is even provided in the same units, such as cups or pieces per serving, to make items easier to compare. *American Heart Association Image
Aside from the obvious reasons, why is serving size important? It ultimately influences the listed amounts of everything else on the nutrition label such as carbohydrates, fat, protein etc. This is because the amount of each listed nutrient is based on the portion size. For example: the larger the portion, the more grams of each nutrient listed. Often foods that are unhealthy, such as butter or processed chips, have relatively small serving sizes to make them appear healthier than they are! Ask yourself “How many servings do I consume”? To help you keep track of calories.
When you hear the term ‘calories’ you may think amount weight. However, calories actually provide a measure of how much energy you receive from eating a given amount of a specific food. Calories come from the three main macronutrients Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins, not from micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Each of the main macronutrients contains a different amount of energy or calories per gram. For example, carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram while fats contain 9 calories per gram, making them more calorically dense. Aside from the biochemical structure of fats and the way they are metabolized, fats are ‘worse’ for us when weight-loss is concerned, because they contain more calories –making it harder to loose weight.
Some foods are also higher in calories than others. For example, fruits and vegetables tend to be lower in calories, especially fat, and are devoid of saturated fats found in animal products. Plant foods also typically contain more minerals and vitamins than animal products do. On the flip side, animal products such as milk and meat tend to be higher in protein content and important minerals such as iron and calcium.
Since calories are really a measure of energy, the calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight through energy balance as previously described. It’s crucial to remember that the number of servings and portion size you consume determines the actual number of calories you take in.
Nowadays, when deciding on your favorite restaurant and fast-food items the calorie content and even nutritional information is available on the menu depending on where you live. This may be startling, but recent legislation had required every large restaurant chain in the nation, including fast food chains, to provide caloric information on their menus and drive-throughs. This new federal law passed in 2011 by the Obama administration requires restaurant chains that are comprised of twenty or more locations to disclose the caloric content of their food items, as well as a description of the daily recommended calorie intake for a healthy person (~2000 calories per day. The legislation takes this one step further, requiring that vending machines also list the amount of calories in the food items they’re selling.
So next time you’re considering a Big-Mac at McDonalds, Frappucino from Starbucks, or tuna sub from Subway, you might just be staring down at a sign, reminding you how bad some of these food choices are.
Just how bad are some of these items & what should you eat instead? Well, just for fun we’ll fill you in!
AVOID- Their 6″ version of a Tuna Sammy has 530 calories and 31 grams of fat, and over 1000 mg of sodium (more than half your recommended daily intake).
The Healthiest Subway Options:
-6″ Ham Sub has 261 Calories, 4.5g fat, 17g protein and 39g carbs
-6″ Roast Beef has 264 Calories, 4.5g fat, 18 g protein and 39g carbs
-6″ Roasted Chicken Breast has 311 Calories, 6g fat, 25g protein and 40g carbs
-6″ Subway Club has 294 Calories, 5g fat, 22g protein and 40g carbs
-6″ Veggie Delight w/o cheese has 200 Calories, 2.5g fat, 7g protein and 37g carbs
-6″ Honey Mustard Turkey w/ Cucumber has 275 Calories, 3.5 g fat, 22g protein, 42g carbs.
AVOID – A Peppermint White Hot Chocolate has 730 calories, A Mint Chocolate-chip Frappucino has 680 calories, and a Tazzo Green Tea Frappucino even has 650 calories!
AVOID the Blueberry Scone with 460 calories and 22 grams of fat.
The Best coffee: Drip coffee has only 5 calories! A little extra if you decide to add a splash of dairy.
The Best breakfast selection: Starbuck’s ‘Perfect Oatmeal’ is fiber-packed with heart healthy oats and only has 140 calories. If you add their ‘Perfect Nut Medley’ containing almonds, pecans and walnuts add an additional 100 calories to the total.
AVOID – The Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese contains 740 Calories, 42g of fat (19g saturated fat) and 1380mg of sodium. Even their Grilled Chicken Club has 570 Calories, 21g of fat (7g saturated fat) and 1720mg sodium (almost a total day’s worth of sodium!!!)
The Healthiest McDonald Options are:
-The English Muffin with only 140 Calories, 2g Fat, 4g Protein and 25g Carbs
-The Chicken McGrill w/o mayo has 340 Calories, 7g Fat, 26g Protein and 45 g Carbs
-Their Hamburger has 280 Calories, 10g Fat, 12g Protein and 35g Carbs.