I hope you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving :)
Today’s world runs so fast, (can you believe it's almost December?), that a product must convey to the consumer pertinent information instantly. At its best, a mere image is all that is required. Generally, if you see a partially eaten white apple you associate it with computer excellence, pushing the envelope, and frequent software updates. Golden Arches belie familiarity, youthful dreams, bloating and fullness for hours on end. A product must demonstrate its appeal, what it can do and do so in a way that makes you want to buy it, now.
Unlike most non-edible purchases, food must not only contain information about what ingredients are in it, but its nutritional (or lack thereof) characteristics, so the consumer knows exactly what he/she is putting inside his/her body. Yet with so many differing nutritional components and suggested percentages, all those numbers and their respective roles are often confusing. Sometimes even misleading.
Take for example a package of gummy bears. Now you shouldn't be looking at or be familiar with Gummy Bears except as a mid 80's Disney Cartoon on Saturday mornings, but assume that you are. A typical serving shows zero fat grams, more than half of its carbohydrate content clocking in in the form of sugar, zero fiber and protein. What do these figures mean? Little to no long-term nutritional value.
Back in 1994, while dieting down for my first bodybuilding competition, I was eating yams as one of my main carbohydrate sources straight out of a can. The can showed zero fat and even some fiber, so I thought fantastic! As the weeks progressed, I noticed I wasn't getting as lean as I could have. It was then that I discovered that the yams, (by themselves very healthy or clean), were heavily immersed in a syrupy water, thusly negating their "burn clean" benefits. Once I switched to the raw and unprocessed variety, the abs came in.
I am not saying canned foods are bad. Tuna is a somewhat regular staple in my regime. I simply run water through it (to rid excess sodium intake), and add Grey Poupon instead of mayonnaise for taste. What I am saying is labels, while important, simply provide the blueprints for food. Without being able to properly decipher the meaning behind the numbers, you may not be getting the most out of your food and therefore, your body.
With all of the myriad of diets out there, it can be extremely confusing deciding what to follow. But some of the constants that I live by are to eat the majority of my foods clean or un processed. And in doing so, the need to look at labels dissipates. But in the real world we live in, sometimes the desire and/or energy to cook clean food is just not there. Instances like the other evening when I arrived home from work and simply microwaved prepared chicken breast strips from Costco, Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe's and garlic brown rice with quinoa from Wholefoods. It took but minutes to nuke and I washed it down with a caffeine-free diet Pepsi and felt good about my choices on that particular evening.
I would like to make clear that I personally eat more for the aesthetics of my body and performance rather than sheer taste (unless a cheat meal is in progress). That things used sparingly like salsa, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and worcestershire sauce can make an otherwise bland meal seem almost indulgent. Since people tend to buy the same foods, it is important to know what is going into your body regularly.
Before getting to what I do look for on food labels, let me tell you what I personally am not terribly concerned with.
Calories - It is the macronutrients, (the parts), rather than the whole (calories), that I look for. It's the quality of those calories, not just the quantity that is important. I want unprocessed protein, carbohydrates and fats in my body. If you know how many grams of each are in a meal, then you will know the calories. Protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram while fat clocks in at 9.
Serving Size - I've never even come close to the amount of servings a manufacturer claims the consumer will yield out of a particular food product. Additionally, I have more lean muscle mass than the average person and didn't get this way by getting 4-5 servings out of a product like they say, but most probably 1-2 (of clean food.)
Cholesterol - Again, to me, not something I spend time on. If it's clean or as little processed as possible, and contains little saturated fat, the chances are good that it's low in cholesterol. Of course exceptions such as shrimp, which are naturally higher in cholesterol, do exist.
% of Daily Allowance - If I followed the recommended daily allowance of what they say my protein intake should be, I'd be left with the lean muscle mass of a tuna roll. A lot of these guidelines are for thin, moderately active to sedentary persons, not for those wishing to build their ideal physique. That goes for women as well as men.
Fat Free - Generally, if a product says fat free it may, in actuality, be higher in sugar. In order to provide taste, if the fat has been removed or lowered in a food, sugar is often added. I'll take low fat or trace elements of fat any day over fat free. Fat Free to me is like Free, seeming almost too good to be true, and nothing in life is free.
The things that I look for in regards to food labels are:
Protein - the true magic of muscles. I couldn't maintain my right toenail on the recommended daily allowance. I need more and if it’s canned, for me it's tuna or chicken breast. At least 1 lean gram per pound of body weight for those looking for lean muscle mass.
Sugars - aside from protein, it's probably the first thing I look at. Carbs (low-glycemic) don't concern me, actually I need a lot of them to keep my body moving. But it is the slow burning kind - quinoa, oatmeal, etc. that I want, not the insulin spiking type such as canned (baked) beans, candied yams or canned fruit in syrup that I wish to avoid. Limit.
Sugar Alcohol - Although not straight sugar, considered empty calories or filler and does effect blood sugar levels and can cause bloating and diarrhea. Definitely not clean fuel for your body or physique. Limit.
Fats - essential for maintaining healthy skin as well as providing essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Saturated as found in vegetable shortening, can clog your arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Unsaturated fats as found in salmon, reduce the risk for clogged arteries. I do try to keep it at between 75-85 grams daily of unsaturated.
Sodium - sodium's role in the body is to help maintain fluid levels in various parts of the body. Too much will cause you to retain water and thusly bloat and soften even the leanest of physiques. Since most foods naturally possess sodium, there is no need to add more. Instead of salt, I use Mrs. dash, Garlic Powder instead of Garlic Salt, or some other substitute. I don’t count it, I just limit it.
I was recently asked my opinion about meal delivery services. I think if one has the extra bread (pun intended), will help to keep one on a fitter lifestyle, offers lean and clean variety and is palatable, I'm all for it.
As we close out 2012 and head in to 2013, I'd like to turn the tables and have YOU write my last newsletter of the year. Please send your questions, no matter the fitness topic to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions and comments are anonymous and chances are that if you have specific questions, at least a dozen or so folks have the same question.
Last month’s response to my giveaway was overwhelming and so, I offer to you again. My Special Pre-New Year Holiday offer to you is a FREE training session to the first 10 persons who have not worked with me before to be used before January 1, 2013. Just send me an email with the subject heading “Free Workout”. Get a head start on becoming the person you wish to be in 2013!
Yours in fitness,