Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to Read a Nutrition Label

It occurs to me that many people don't understand what a calorie is, what it means to consume a calorie, and where the calories are coming from in the food we eat.

So, for anyone who is interested, please read on:

**A disclaimer: I didn't major in science in college, so if I make a mistake, please point it out. but nicely. Doing the best I can here.

First thing, grab a can of food out of your pantry, or anything with a nutrition label.

After the serving size and number of servings in the package, the first thing you'll see is "Calories."
In chemistry class, you probably heard that a calorie is the amount of energy that it takes to raise one cubic centimeter of water by one degree celsius. The calories in your food are Calories, with a capital C. They're 1,000 of the little guys. Essentially, calories are energy.

When you eat food, your body uses the calories to operate. if you eat more calories than your body needs to operate in a day, the calories get stored. as fat. that's what makes you gain weight. if you eat fewer calories than your body needs in a day, you'll lose weight (but only to a certain degree. I'm certainly not advocating starving yourself to lose weight. for a number of reasons, that won't work).

Different kinds of nutrients in food contain varying amounts of calories.
One gram of fat = 9 calories
One gram of alcohol= 7 calories
One gram of Protein = 4 calories
One gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories.

So, back to the nutrition label. you can look at the nutrients and know approximately how many calories out of the whole you're getting from protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

*Note: Sugar and fiber are a part of the total carbohydrates. they aren't calculated on their own. The same is true for the various fats listed under "total fat."

Obviously, fat contains a lot more energy per gram than protein and carbohydrates. that's why most diets suggest that you limit your fat-- you're getting a lot more calories in a lot less food than you would if you ate foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates, like whole grain bread.

A final note: keep in mind that alcohol is NOT a low calorie food... in fact, as you can see, one gram of alcohol contains seven calories.

Hope this helps anyone out there who is reading and may have questions on this subject.

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