Successful weight loss largely depends on lifestyle changes we make. A great deal of these changes revolves around diet. Our eating regimen revolves around buying things we need. That’s exactly where mistakes happen. Sometimes foods we deem healthy aren’t going to help us slim down. For that reason, reading nutrition labels is crucial. Read on to learn how reading product labels can help you slim down and other useful things you need to know about this subject.
Do people read nutrition labels anyway?
While everyone knows the packaging of different foods contains nutrition labels, the question is do people read them. Many of them do not. But others do. A study from the BMC Public Health investigated the use of food labels. They analyzed answers from the survey that included 9690 respondents. Results showed 69% of adults would use fast food information while 76% reported reading nutrition facts on packaged foods. Interestingly, adults trying to slim down were more likely to read nutrition labels (1).
The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study that found only a third of participants used nutrition labels frequently. The total number of participants was 1817. Factors linked to more frequent use of nutrition labels included (2):
- Being a woman
- High education
- High income
- Preparing food regularly
- Being physically active
- Overweight or trying to lose/gain/maintain weight
People who reported reading labels were primarily focused on calories, sugars, ingredient lists, and serving size.
Do nutrition labels support weight loss?
Turning the product over to read the label seems easy, but can it really help you slim down? Actually, it can. One study aimed to uncover whether reading labels can support weight loss and for that purpose scientists created a survey on 1245 women.
Findings revealed frequent use of food labels was linked to increased healthy weight-loss behaviors. That’s why the habit of reading labels should be incorporated into strategies to prevent obesity (3).
Now that we know nutrition labels can help you slim down, it’s impossible not to wonder how and why? Further in this post, we’re going to give you answers to that question.
Control food intake
Appetite control is crucial on the road to weight loss. After all, you lose weight when calorie intake is lower than the number of calories you burn. Unfortunately, overeating is a major problem for most people. That usually happens with an unhealthy diet.
Processed foods don’t keep you full for longer so you end up eating shortly after a meal.
Reading nutrition labels can help you control how much food you eat. How? As you’re already aware, food items come with a nutrition label that displays serving size among other things. Serving size is particularly important for men and women who are trying to slim down because all other nutritional info relates to it. For example, calories listed on the label are the calories in one serving. The number of servings shows how many are in each container or packaging.
As you learn more about serving size and the number of servings, you get to control your food intake. When you’re striving to slim down, your goal is to avoid overeating. One way to make it happen is to stick to the serving size mentioned on the label. It will be easier for you to control food intake, and thereby your appetite, when you know how much is enough to eat or how many calories and other nutrients you will consume.
Easier to count calories
Not everyone likes to count calories, but for many people, this practice is the easiest way to manage food intake and slim down. The nutrition label, as you know, contains the number of calories per serving. This helpful information allows you to plan your meals and snacks accordingly, to avoid consuming too many calories compared to daily physical activity levels.
So, how many calories do you need to consume for successful weight loss?
The actual number depends on several factors including your current weight, height, age, metabolic health, and physical activity levels. A general rule of thumb is to eat 500 fewer calories than you eat now, to lose weight. For instance, if the current calorie intake is 2200, you need to reduce that number to 1700 to slim down. This practice can help you shed 1 pound (0.45kg) of body weight a week (4).
The whole idea of reducing calorie intake can be tricky if you’re unaware of how many calories you need. This is where nutrition labels step in. By making it your habit to read these labels to get informed about calories per serving, you get to adjust your daily calorie intake accordingly.
Calories should go hand in hand with servings. Let’s say you buy muffins and the serving size is half a muffin, but the label says it has 150 calories. If you eat the whole muffin, you’ll actually consume 300 calories. But if you stick to the recommended serving size, you’ll get 150 calories only.
Added sugars info
Added sugars include sugars added to foods during production. These may include table sugar, cane and beet sugar, malt syrup, corn syrup, and other sweeteners (5).
Evidence shows overconsumption of added sugars is a major risk factor for overweight and obesity, but it also contributes to prediabetes and diabetes (6).
The presence of added sugars adds to the calories of certain foods. For that reason, sometimes the food we think could help us is actually more caloric than we believed. As a result, it could hamper our weight-loss efforts.
Nutrition labels contain information about added sugars. You can use this segment to make wise choices. Ideally, you should reduce consumption of added sugars as much as you can. Doing so would be difficult without nutrition labels.
As you lower the intake of added sugars, you also give your weight-loss endeavor a much-needed boost. Besides weight loss, reduction or avoidance of added sugars can also (7):
- Lower triglycerides levels
- Reduce heart disease risk
- Improve dental health
- Manage blood pressure
- Decrease diabetes and liver disease risk
A deeper understanding of fat and which kinds to avoid
Fat has been demonized for a long time. Even today many people firmly believe all fat is bad and should be avoided at all costs. Not all fat is bad, though. In fact, fat is one of three macronutrients our body needs to function properly. The key is to limit or avoid intake of bad fat and consume good fat instead.
But, what’s good or bad fat?
Good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Trans fat is considered bad. Saturated fat is often described as bad, but it’s more complicated than that. Whether saturated fat is good or bad may depend on the food in which it is included. When a part of a well-balanced, healthy diet, saturated fat is unlikely to cause problems. On the flip side, if saturated fat is a part of an unhealthy diet, it may raise cholesterol levels and cause other issues (8).
Ideally, you should buy foods with little to no trans fats and opt for alternatives with healthier fats instead. Of course, decreasing calorie intake indicates you need to lower total fat intake too. Keep in mind lower doesn’t mean “avoid all fat entirely”. Evidence shows lower fat consumption leads to small, but statistically significant weight loss (9).
Without a nutrition label, it would be tricky, nearly impossible, to assess the approximate fat content in a certain product. Reading labels proves to be an easier, more convenient way to adjust your eating habits for sustainable weight loss.
Carbs and protein intake
Nutrition labels also display carbs and protein content per serving. This information is particularly convenient for persons on a low-carb, high-protein diet who need to make sure they’re staying within limits. Even if you don’t adhere to this kind of dietary regimen, carbs and protein content is still helpful. It allows you to understand how much of these macronutrients you’re going to eat. That way, you won’t get overboard, especially with carbs.
According to recommendations, carbs should account for 45% to 65% of total daily calories (10). In other words, a person on a 2000-calorie diet should eat about 300g of carbs a day. In an effort to slim down, people often reduce calorie intake to 50g to 150g per day (11). Keep in mind severe restriction of carbs can be tricky. The effects are temporary. This kind of severe restriction can be difficult to adhere to in the long run.
When it comes to protein, sedentary women need 46g a day whereas sedentary men need 56g daily. Protein is important for muscle building, but many people don’t realize this macronutrient is essential for weight loss. Protein intake can accelerate the metabolic rate and reduce your appetite, both of which can contribute to weight loss (12).
Nutrition labels simplify the process of changing your diet. With precise info about carbs and proteins, you get to plan your meals accordingly and in a manner that will benefit your weight.
Nutritional labels make you more mindful
Mindfulness is defined as a basic ability of each human to be fully present and aware of where you are or what you’re doing. The term mindful eating refers to being fully attentive to your food in a way you focus on every bit, scents, flavors, texture, and everything else. However, being mindful also means you’re more careful about the foods you eat.
Evidence shows mindfulness in eating helps overcome undesired eating habits (13, 14). Correcting unhealthy eating habits is an important step toward successful weight loss.
Nutrition labels can make you more careful about the foods you buy. The more you focus on the label, the more inclined you’ll be to avoid all foods whose nutritional content doesn’t meet your specific needs. For instance, you will start putting foods with high amounts of added sugars back on the shelf and buying healthier options.
Mindfulness doesn’t limit itself to diet, it spreads everywhere. So besides mindfulness in nutrition, you will be more mindful in other aspects of life. For instance, you may appreciate your mental health more or strive to make mindful, healthier choices as it is. All these simple things can help you slim down.
Keeping an eye on sodium content
Sodium (salt) can cause high blood pressure when consumed in high amounts. That’s why the best thing to do is to stick to consuming less than 2400mg of sodium a day (15). Since sodium is present in most products and foods, it’s useful to keep an eye on the nutrition label. Studies show high salt intake can affect appetite/hunger hormones and thereby contribute to obesity (16). For that reason, reducing salt intake is a good thing to do for your weight, kidney, and heart health. Plus, salt makes you retain water and thereby gain water weight. To avoid these problems, you may want to go for less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.
Nutrition label tips you need to know
As seen throughout this post, a nutrition label can support us on our weight-loss journey in several ways. These tips can help you read and use nutrition labels for the best results:
- Check calories, but don’t focus on them only – the nutrition label offers a lot of information about the food you want to buy. While calorie content is crucial, you shouldn’t focus on that number only. Instead, you should also take into account sugar, fat, minerals, and other components
- The ingredient list is practical – most people don’t have a habit of checking the ingredient list, but it’s never too late to change that. Just by looking at the list of ingredients, you can determine if some product is good for you or not, nutritionally speaking. When you’re striving to lose weight, your goal is to eat a well-balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, and low in unhealthy fats, sugars. While processed foods tend to be more affordable, you should still consume healthy, fresh, foods or ensure it’s minimally processed
- Pay attention to fiber – you need fiber for healthy digestion and appetite suppression. So, before buying food you may want to check how much fiber you can obtain
- Check recommended daily values percentages – take any product near you and check the nutrition label. You can have tiny percentages next to minerals and other nutrients. These percentages indicate just how much of recommended daily intake certain vitamin/mineral content from your product delivers
Food manufacturers are required to provide nutrition labels on the packaging. And not just that, the label must be accurate! While it’s easy to ignore the label, you can actually use it to support your weight-loss efforts. You see, the label helps you control food intake, prevent consuming too many calories, and you’re becoming more mindful. Evidence shows reading labels can, indeed, contribute to weight loss and it’s never too late to start. As you focus on a nutrition label, you change perspective and become adamant to avoid foods that are not good for you.