Do Nutrition Labels Actually Matter? | How to Read a Nutrition Label in 3 Easy Steps


Can reading a nutrition label actually help you eat healthier?


I've seen a lot of people get really obsessive over counting calories and I don't think that's really helpful for a long-term healthy diet.

Not all calories are created equal and if you just look at calories, you're missing a lot of the other nutrients that can actually make a diet healthy.

It's been a while since I graduated from college with a nutrition degree and I wanted to brush up on the facts. 

So, I pulled up two nutrition facts- one for the Egg Sausage McMuffin from McDonalds and the other one for Homemade Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal. 


When you look at two labels side by side- especially an unhealthy one versus a healthy one, you can clearly see what to look for. 


I hope it makes it really easy to remember for you the next time you read a label. 

In this short article, you'll find: 

  • What nutrients to look out for- which nutrients should be high, which should be low?
  • How reading a nutrition label can improve your diet and give you the sense of control you want in your healthy lifestyle
  • How to look beyond calories and see how other nutrients can positively or negatively affect your health
  • A new confidence to purchase the best foods for your diet


Let's start with the sources we'll be comparing- the Sausage McMuffin with Egg from McDonald's and a Homemade Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bowl. 


Below you'll find the original nutritional data. The McDonalds nutrition fact label is straight from the McDonald's website. 


Then, I'll compare them side by side so you can see them more clearly. 

===


Nutritional Information for the 
Sausage McMuffin® with Egg




Look at Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium.
Lack in Fiber


Nutritional Information for the 
Homemade Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal




Ingredients: 
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • 1 apple (cored and diced)
  • ½ tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp. Honey or maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla Greek yogurt 
  • 1 Tbsp. ground flaxseed 
  • 1 Tbsp. walnuts 

Sugar higher, but note it is not all "added" but some come natural from the apple

This is for a HUGE bowl of oatmeal. I usually eat half of this. 


===

So below, are the nutrition facts for the two breakfast foods- EggMcMuffin on the left and the Oatmeal on the right.



So, what is important to look at when you look at a nutrition label?



 

Sausage McMuffin® with Egg

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Calories: 

480 Cal.

540 Cal.

Total Fat: 

31g (40% DV)

12.9 (17% DV)

Saturated Fat: 

12g (62% DV)

3g (15% DV)

Cholesterol: 

280mg (93% DV)

20mg (7% DV)

Sodium:

830mg (36% DV)

114mg (5%DV)

Dietary Fiber: 

2g (7% DV)

12.6g (45% DV)

Total Sugars: 

2g

36.6g

Protein

20g

32.2g

Vitamin D: 

(15% DV)

(0% DV)

Calcium: 

(15%DV)

298mg (23%DV)

Iron: 

(20% DV)

5mg (28% DV)

Potassium: 

(6% DV)

695mg (15% DV)



First, its okay to look at total calories but don't get stuck on it. The oatmeal has more calories than the Egg McMuffin but does that mean it is more fattening or unhealthy?

Not exactly...

I never believed much in calorie counting, but if thats your thing then take note of the calories, but look beyond it too...

Here are the 3 most important things to look at when you read a nutrition label: 

  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
We want these to be as low as possible. 

Others that are important are fiber and potassium. (We want these to be as high as possible.)

Saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium are some of the biggest culprits causing heart disease. 

The more fat and higher cholesterol you have in your diet, the more likely your arteries get rigid and clogged up. So, try to keep your saturated fat and cholesterol intake to a minimum.

Saturated fat and cholesterol are known to be in baked goods, buttery things, and highly processed foods. 

How to Read a Nutrition Label in 3 Easy Steps


Let's DIVE IN to the nutrition label and see if we can make sense of it. Let's focus on those 3 most important ones- saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. 

I circled them below so you can see them easily. 
 


#1 Saturated Fat


If you take a look at the Sausage Egg McMuffin saturated Fat, you see its 12g (62% DV). "DV" means "daily value." The percentage is based on a diet of having 2,000 calories a day. It's a quick reference to  see how much of that nutrient you are intaking in one meal. 

Looking at the saturated fat, this means there are 12 grams of fat, or 62% of your recommended daily value. That's incredible!!! 

In just one Egg McMuffin, you are getting ⅔ of your fat intake for the day. If you have two Egg McMuffins, you exceed the recommended saturated fat intake for the day.

On the other hand, the Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal clocks in at 3 grams and 15% Daily Value for saturated fat. This is much more reasonable. For breakfast, you are only eating 15% of your allowed saturated fat intake.

#2 Cholesterol


Now, don't get me started on cholesterol. The cholesterol in the Egg McMuffin is 280mg or 93% of your daily value. That means with just 1 little EggMcMuffin you are getting your full day's worth of cholesterol. 

Cholesterol is a bad thing so you don't want to get a full day's worth in just one little sandwich.

The Oatmeal, on the other hand just has 20mg or 7% of the daily value. A much more reasonable amount since we are trying to keep our cholesterol as low as possible. 


#3 Dietary Fiber


The last thing I will point out here is the Dietary Fiber. Fiber is super healthful because it helps us eliminate food and prevent constipation. You got to keep things going to remove excess toxins in the body and fiber helps with that. Most Americans don't get enough fiber because we don't eat enough wholesome foods and eat too much meat and animal products.

Fiber is something we really need to increase. In the oatmeal, you get 12.6 grams, or 45% of your recommended fiber. That's why a healthy breakfast is so good to have. Breakfast can be a great source of fiber in the morning and thats why studies show that people that have breakfast in the morning tend to be healthier. The morning is a great time to load up on fiber rich foods like oatmeal, whole grains, and fruit.

On the other hand, our friend Egg McMuffin has a poor fiber score of 2g (or 7% DV). Looks like that Egg McMuffin will be staying in your gut for a while!

Summary


This is a really quick guide on reading a nutritional label and what to look for.

Look for low amounts on these:
  • Saturated Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium

And look for higher amounts on these:
  • Dietary fiber
  • Potassium
  • Vitamins

Ideally we can all eat more wholefoods, or foods in their whole state like spinach, apples, whole grains- the foods that don't have nutrition labels. But, if you do buy some foods with a nutrition label, keep these tips in mind to supplement your wholefood diet. 


To your happy and healthy life, 


Joanna



Instagram: @chefjoannas 

More Healthy Breakfast Articles:

Comment with Facebook

Comments