Nutrition labels can be complicated and jammed packed with lots of different values. If you ever wondered how you can use the information presented on food packaging to make better food choices then this is the guide for you.
Have you decided to lose weight? Or are you happy as your are, but do not want to gain any weight? If you want to maintain the body weight you have, make sure your energy intake is in balance with your energy costs. Simply put, if you eat more than your body burns you gain weight. If you eat less calories than your body burns, you lose weight. It is therefore important to keep in mind that everything you eat matters - even drinks (except water). Some foods contain many calories per gram and others less.
What is a calorie?
1 calorie = The amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.
How much energy you need as an adult depends mainly on three different things:
- Your basic energy needs, that is, how much energy your body is using during rest.
- The thermogenic effect of the food, that is, the energy needed to break down the food you eat.
- Your level of physical activity, how much you are moving and exercising.
You need to adjust the amount of food you eat and the exercise you do, to stay in energy balance. Energy balance means that energy intake via the food corresponds to energy consumption. If you are in energy balance, your body weight will remain stable. This energy can be measured in kilocalories (kcal), which is usually shortened to calories.
Energy is usually considered as a positive thing to have, but getting a lot can also be too much. This is especially true if you often eat food that contains a lot of energy, that is, high calorie foods. Examples of these are pastries, sweets, soft drinks, snacks, fat dairy products, mayonnaise, rich sauces and fried foods.
Many people consume more calories than they need, with obesity as a result. Others have difficulty eating enough. As with so much else in life, finding a balance is the best.
Protein is usually called the building blocks of the body. They are necessary components to build up cells and to form enzymes and hormones. Many people are afraid of not getting enough protein. But the fact is that almost everyone gets more protein than they need, because protein is in larger or smaller amounts in almost all foods.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is built up of about 20 amino acids. Nine of them are essential, that is, we must regularly get them through food because the body can not produce them themselves.
Protein is included in all tissue cells of the body. In addition, hormones, enzymes and important components of the immune system consist of proteins. Protein is therefore important for the whole body's function.
How much protein is right?
The general recommendation is that 10-20 percent of the calories we eat should come from protein. It corresponds to at least 50-70 grams of protein per day for an adult. This is easy to achieve eating a mixed diet.
Only people who eat monophagous (only eating a single kind of food, or especially feeding on a single kind of plant or animal) or have a very low energy intake, risk protein deficiency. In order to use protein properly, you need to get enough energy, ie calories. If the body does not get enough energy, the protein is used as fuel instead of as building blocks.
Muscles consist mainly of protein. Therefore, many who want to build muscle eat large amounts of protein. However surplus protein does not necessarily become more muscle but can also be used as an energy source or stored in the body's fat reserve.
For people over the age of 65, protein should contribute 15-20 percent of the energy intake. People with low energy intake diets, below 1920 calories (kcal) per day, need to increase the proportion of protein so that it still corresponds to approximately 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and day.
How can I choose good protein?
Good protein sources in the plant kingdom are pulses and legumes such as lentils, soybeans and peas. By eating different kinds of food from the plant kingdom you can get enough essential amino acids, even without eating meat or dairy.
Foods from the animal kingdom like meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy products contain all essential amino acids in a good mix. It is usually said that these are foods with good protein quality.
However you should consider to cut down on consumption red meat (beef, pork and lamb) because high intake can lead to increased risk of a variety of medical concerns. From an environmental and sustainability perspective cutting down on meats is also good, not only for your health but also for our planet.
Protein and exercise
Physical activity makes you get more muscles, which increases the protein turnover in the muscles. Very hard exercise, especially endurance, also causes muscle breakdown to increase, and because of this, the muscles need to be "repaired". Therefore, it is important to get protein after exercising. But the most important thing is to get enough energy, ie calories.
The main sources of energy are fat and carbohydrates. But if the body does not absorb enough energy from fat and carbohydrates, protein from the food or from the muscles is used as an energy source. Therefore, it is important to get enough calories. Getting enough protein is very easy for someone who is physically active because you usually eat a lot. However there is a small risk of not getting enough protein if you are exercising while cutting weight.
It is only if a very large part of the energy you eat comes from sugar, soda, candy or other quick carbohydrates, or if you eat extremely fatty foods that you are at risk not getting enough protein. Such a diet has many disadvantages and it is then much better both for your health and general daily performance to change your diet to include more quality foods rather than to compensate for these bad eating habits with protein and vitamin supplements.
Protein for vegetarians and vegans
It is not difficult for vegetarians to get enough protein, or even for vegans who also exclude milk and eggs.
Beans, lentils and other legumes are good plant based protein sources. There are also different products like tofu and soybean pasta that contain a lot of protein. Foods like nuts and seeds also contribute a lot of protein.
However plant based protein sources usually do not contain all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities by themselves, but together they complement each other. Assuming that you do not eat very one-sided, you should still get enough essential amino acids by eating a mix of these plant based protein sources.
FatFat is an important source of energy for our bodies and the right kind of fat in the right amount is crucial for good performance.
Why do we need fat?
Fat gives the body energy in concentrated form and is stored in the fatty tissue as energy reserve. The fatty tissue is also heat insulating and provides our internal organs with protection.
Fat is needed for the body to build and repair cells and produce hormones. Fat is also needed for the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Fat also provides us with life vital, essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. Our bodies can not produce these ourselves, so we have to get them through the food we eat. Essential fatty acids affect a range of functions in the body, including blood pressure and the immune system.
How much fat is right?
Fat contains more energy than other nutrients. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, which is more than twice as much as one gram of carbohydrate or protein. Because fat contains a lot of energy per gram, it's easy to get more energy than you need if you eat a lot of fat. This can lead to weight problems and obesity.
About one third of the energy you get in one day should come from fat. For a woman it means about 70 grams of fat a day and for a man about 90 grams.
What fat should you eat?
There are different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The difference between them is how the fatty acids they contain are formed.
For diets where a large part of the fat comes from dairy products such as cheese, milk and butter, it is easy to get too much saturated fat and too little polyunsaturated fat. Most would feel better by reducing the intake of saturated fats and increasing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. The fats they should eat more of are found in fish, canola oil, olive oil and nuts.
There is also a type of fat called trans fat. Trans fat increases, like saturated fats, the risk of cardiovascular disease. Often trans fats are found in foods that also contain a lot of saturated fat.
Fat for vegetarians and vegans
One benefit of plant based diets is saturated fat intake is automatically reduced by avoiding meats and dairy products. Good sources of vegan monounsaturated fats include nuts like cashews and almonds, seeds such as chia and hemp and vegetables such as avocados and soybeans.
Carbohydrates are the common name for starch, dietary fiber and different sugars. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy.
Why do we need carbohydrates?
Most of the carbohydrates are broken down into the body to sugar glucose, which is needed as energy for the cells. Glucose is stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen that acts as energy reserve. The brain uses glucose as fuel and needs about 100 grams of glucose a day.
How can I choose good carbohydrates?
It is important for your health to choose the right kind of carbohydrates. Whole grain varieties of bread, pasta and rice, and fiber rich foods like vegetables, fruit and legumes have a protective effect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. They also help keep a proper body weight. Therefore, the carbohydrates you eat should primarily come from such foods.
Many people should eat less sweet foods and drinks such as candy, ice cream, juices, pastries, sodas and sweet sauces and desserts which contain a lot of sugar but little nutrition. If you often eat foods with a lot of sugar it is difficult to get enough nutritious foods that provide vitamins and minerals without consuming more energy(calories) than you need.
Sifted grains, white bread and plain pasta, contain less vitamins and minerals than whole grain varieties. Eating a lot of food based on sifted flour, sugary foods and drinks can make it harder to balance your weight.
How much carbohydrates to eat?
Generally 45-60 percent of the energy we receive from food comes from carbohydrates. For those who eat 2000 calories (kcal) a day, they correspond between 250 and 300 grams of carbohydrates. Of these, a maximum of 50 grams should come from added sugar.
Carbohydrates from the plant kingdom that are not broken down for digestion by the body are called dietary fibers. They are found in vegetables, fruits, root vegetables, beans and lentils, as well as whole grain pasta and rice.
Why do we need fibers?
Dietary fibers, or fibers, are important for the intestines to function normally. For those with stomach problems, it is important to eat a lot of fiber and to drink enough water.
Fiber-rich foods give greater saturation than fiber-poor foods. The greater sense of saturation can reduce the small intestine and make it easier to hold weight. As it is often necessary to chew fiber-rich foods a little more, saliva production increases, which is also good for the teeth.
Fiber rich foods help keep blood fat levels low. Food with high fiber also causes blood sugar to rise slowly more slowly, also called low GI.
How much fiber is right?
Many people need to eat more fiber. A reasonable amount for adults is about 25-35 grams of fibers per day. Different people react differently to fibers. For some people, too much fiber can lead to stomach ache which in turn causes tension and discomfort.
Sodium is a necessary element of the body that is found in the body fluid outside the cells but also in the skeleton. Sodium is important for acid-base balance, as well as water and salt balance in the body, which prevents dehydration.
Sodium is also needed for the normal functioning of the nerves and for the absorption of glucose and certain amino acids.
How do we get sodium?
The main source of sodium is salt such as table salt and sea salt. Sodium is also found in foods such as meat, fish and cereals.
How much sodium do we need per day?
The intake of salt should decrease in most adults in the population. The goal is for the population to reach 6 grams per day. It corresponds to 2.4 grams of sodium per day. The figure of 6 grams of salt per day is mainly based on the effect of the salt on blood pressure. Salt intake in children should also be limited and for children 2-10 years around 3-4 grams of salt per day.
Lack of sodium is very rare but acute deficiency can occur in extreme cases, such as if you have had prolonged stomach ache or severe sweating from heat or exercise.
Can you get too much sodium?
Too much sodium (salt) can be a cause of high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney damage. To reduce the risk of high blood pressure, you should not eat more than 5-6 grams of salt per day or max 2,000-2,400 mg of sodium per day