Likness - author of Become The Journey - A Transformation Guide
for Tom Venuto's Fitness Renaissance
It is important that you
know how to shop for quality foods. This article explains how to maximize your
trips to the grocery store by revealing exactly how to read labels and find
healthy foods. It is not very complicated, but a little knowledge can go a long
ways when it comes to healthy shopping.
Are A Few General Guidelines For Looking At Food Labels:
It is the ingredients and
the nutrition facts that are important - one without the other doesn't tell the
Ingredients list are listing
in descending order of predominance. This means that the first ingredient is
the most prevalent in the product, while the last ingredient has the least
amount in the product.
In general, you'll want
sugars and salts to be listed last in the ingredients list
If you are looking for a
whole fat food, remember that the labels list fats in grams. The percentage
listed next to the fats is percentage of daily intake, not percentage of fat
calories in the product. You need to look at the top of the label, "calories of
fat", and divide that by total calories to figure out the percentage. You can
estimate this - if the fat calories are around ½ of the total calories,
then the fat calories are about 50%.
When looking for
carbohydrate products, try to choose products that are the least amount
processed. Here are a few tips:
Breads should have the words
"whole" or "stone ground" first on the ingredients list. Often, you might see
"unbleached enriched flour, whole wheat..." which is not the bread you are
looking for - this is processed bread with some whole grains added for color.
The first ingredient should be whole grains.
A quality carbohydrate
should have fiber and sugar. Try to avoid carbohydrates with zero fiber.
Carbohydrates that are
nothing but fiber will also not provide optimal nourishment- a combination of
both is good. I typically look for at least 1/6 of the total carbohydrate count
as fiber - so something with 20 grams of carbohydrate would have around 3 - 4
grams of fiber.
It is your decision whether
or not you wish to consume highly processed foods. I choose to look for whole,
natural foods. If there is too much Latin on the label - i.e. Ingredients I
can't pronounce or don't recognize, I leave it on the shelf!
Canned goods, frozen
dinners, and other pre-packaged items are typically very high in sodium. You
are better off purchasing the whole, individual ingredients and then making
your own meals from recipes. You can store these in containers and freeze them
Foods are often "grouped" on
ingredients lists to present the items in a specific way. Sometimes this is for
legitimate reasons, and sometimes it can be downright tricky. Most people
understand that ingredients should be listed in descending order of quantity -
in other words, the ingredient that occurs the most in the product should also
be listed first.
Therefore, someone looking
for a protein bar will be happy to pick up something that reads:
blend (hydrolyzed cow toes, whey), maltodextrin
The label will list protein,
and zero sugars.
Of course, there is more
going on here. That special protein blend - what is it, really? Let's say our
ingredients list had 10 grams of whey, 11 grams of cow toes (ew!) and 12 grams
of maltodextrin. That list would need to be in descending order of quantity, or
"maltodextrin, hydrolyzed cow toes, whey."
Anyone familiar with sugars
knows that while maltodextrin doesn't affect the sugar count, it is very high
glycemic and therefore not something you would want to be the primary
ingredient (unless this was a post-workout shake). So looking at this label,
the average consumer would say to themselves, "High in sugar, tons of poor
protein, and only a little whey."
So what to do? Simple. The
company groups the cow toes and whey together. This is the "super-di-awesome
protein blend." Because the sum of the ingredients is 10 + 11 = 21, this new
"blend" can be listed before the maltodextrin, with the components of the blend
listed in order.
Now, it appears to the
unsuspecting consumer that there is actually more whey in the product than
maltodextrin (sugar). But we know there is less! The whey makes its way (pardon
the pun) to the front of the list through the use of the blend. Therefore, when
you are checking out labels, make sure you are aware of how this grouping
Sometimes label contain
special statements. It is important to understand exactly what these mean.
When a label states, "Not
a significant source of calories from fat," it must have less than 0.5
grams of fat per serving. Be cautious of deli meats that are sliced so thin
that they may have less than ½ gram of fat per serving, but still
contain a significant percentage of calories from fat.
"Not a significant source
of sugars" means that the sugar count on the label is less than one gram.
Don't take this statement for granted. Some ingredients, such as maltodextrin,
are not technically considered to be sugars, but have the same effect as
sugars. This is why the ingredients list and the nutrition facts are important
when taken together.
are some definitions for other special statements:
Fat Or Fat Free - Contains less than a 1/2 gram of fat per serving. Lower
Or Reduced Fat - Contains less the fat or calories of the original version or a
Low Fat - Contains
less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Lite - Contains 1/3
the calories or 1/2 the fat per serving of the original version or a similar
Low Calories -
Contains 1/3 the calories of the original version or a similar product.
No Calorie Or Calorie
Free - Contains less than 5 calories per serving.
Sugar Free - Contains
less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving.
No Preservatives -
Contains no preservatives (chemical or natural).
Added - Contains no added chemicals to preserve the product. Some of these
products may contain natural preservatives.
Low Sodium - Contains
less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
No Salt Or Salt Free
- Contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Baked Not Fried -
Used mostly for potato chips, crackers or corn chips, this label means the
product is usually sprayed with a light oil then baked in an over instead of
fried in the oil.
Sugars by Any Name
Understand how to locate
sugars in your foods. I am not against sugars, as you read in previous
chapters, but it is important to know how to find these if they do exist. Here
are some common names for sugars. Be cautious with foods where these appear
higher in the ingredients list, as the foods may contain too much sugar and
create undesirable spikes in your blood sugar:
If you are avoiding dairy,
the following elements on an ingredients list are dairy or dairy
Natural & Artificial
There seems to be a lot of
fuss over having natural versus artificial flavorings. It seems that many
products are proud to brag "natural flavors" on their ingredients, while
consumers are quick to erect a stake and start building a pile of sticks to
burn anything that remotely mentions something as "artificial." The truth about
these ingredients, however, is not what you think! So what exactly is the
difference between natural and artificial flavors?
Natural and artificial
flavors are defined by the Code of Federal Regulations. This means there are
specific laws regarding which of these terms can be used on an ingredients
In order to be considered
"natural" an ingredient must adhere to the standard that:
"a natural flavor is the
essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate,
distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains
the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice,
vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or
similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or
fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring
rather than nutritional."
Anything that does not
follow this definition is considered artificial. Quite a mouthful, no?
There is actually a trained
professional, known as a "flavorist," who creates these ingredients. What may
surprise you is that both natural and artificial flavors are made in a
laboratory! That's right - the flavorist actually uses the same chemicals to
make natural or artificial flavors.
The difference is that the
chemicals are either naturally derived or synthetically created. This is not
like the difference between wool and nylon, which are both used for making
clothes but are different substances.
At a molecular level,
natural and artificial flavors appear to be the same. In fact, there is an
argument that artificial flavors are safer. This is because they can be created
in their pure form. For natural flavors, the source product (for example, an
apple) must be dissolved and filtered, even treated with other chemicals, in
order to yield the chemicals for the flavoring. This creates a greater
potential for impurities to exist in the flavoring.
It is therefore wise to note
that natural and artificial flavorings are both chemical additives used to
enhance flavor. If a product indicates that it contains a natural flavor, that
does not mean the vendor ground their apples to flavor the product - it means
they purchased or extracted a specific set of chemicals and artificially added
these to the food to alter the taste.
If you are not concerned
with flavorings, then pay less attention to whether the source is natural or
artificial, and more attention to the position in the ingredients list. If you
want a natural food in the sense that it is something you could produce in your
own kitchen, ditch the packages that have any added flavoring other than
There are certain red flags
to look for in an ingredients list. This is by no means a comprehensive list,
but a recommendation based on my own experience with purchasing quality foods.
When looking at an ingredients list, examine the beginning (initial
ingredients), the middle, and the end of the list.
Here Is My List Of Red
Sugar anywhere but the end.
Middle is fine if there is also substantial fiber. Of course, these rules may
change for a post-workout shake.
Salt anywhere but the end of
the list. Salt is not bad (see my "The Skinny on Salt" article) but should be
used in moderation.
Any ingredient that I can't
pronounce or must understand Latin in order to decipher - again, these aren't
necessarily bad I just ask myself do they do something good for me?
Excess vitamins and minerals
- I'd rather get these from whole foods and a well-designed multivitamin than
as a spray or additive in my food.
Enriched anything. This has
to be the biggest joke in the food industry. Enriched means the food was
stripped of vital nutrients, and then a half-baked attempt at stuffing some
more back in was made.
Fortified. Fortified with
what? Control your vitamin and mineral intake through engineered supplements
and whole foods - not through additives to existing foods where you do not have
control over the quality or quantity.
Any food where the serving
size provides over 20 grams of carbohydrate but less than 2 grams of fiber.
A protein where the fat
calories are half of or more than the total calories (unless, of course, you
are looking at a bottle of olive oil).
The existence of partially
hydrogenated oils anywhere in the ingredients list (also known as trans-fatty
acids). I also tend to avoid hydrogenated oils as well (as opposed to partially
hydrogenated) but don't mind them if they are at the end of the ingredients
list. Also, if a product declares that it is free of trans fatty acids, then it
should be fine despite the presence of hydrogenated oils in the ingredients
Educate yourself regarding
foods will help you tremendously in your journey to fitness. As with all
things, practice moderation. For example, my weakness is fried corn chips.
I still consume these, in
moderation, by keeping them within my calorie budget and avoiding multiple
servings per day or consuming them daily. When I have a strong craving for
chips, I will purchase the baked variety (usually spiced with lemon and chili
pepper) as a compromise.
I want to leave you with one
final piece of advice that I learned from many other sources. It is called
"shopping at the periphery."
If you notice, most stores
put the processed, packaged, and canned goods in the middle of the store. The
fresh produce, eggs, dairy, meats, and other whole items are around the
perimeter of the store. As long as you focus the majority of your shopping on
this perimeter, you will be doing very well at picking up healthy, wholesome
This article was an
Become The Journey - A Transformation Guide
Jeremy Likness is
a Certified Fitness Trainer and a Specialist in Performance Nutrition. He is
the CEO of Natural Physiques(tm), a Division of Golden Summit, Inc.
NaturalPhysiques.com, is the premier resource for articles relating to the
mind, body, and spiritual aspect of physique transformation. After Jeremy and
his wife lost over 100 pounds of fat combined, Jeremy wrote an incredible
manual for anyone interested in taking control of their life: "Become the
Journey: A Transformation Guide." For more information about this unique guide
that focuses on the personal development aspect of healthy living, click on
Become The Journey - A Transformation