If you are a recent adopter of the ketogenic lifestyle, welcome to the world of checking food labels before purchase. It’s funny that we have gone through our lives without even thinking about this (look where that got us!), and as soon as we changed this one behaviour, our lives changed. If you still struggle with understanding the information on food labels and using this to judge other or not the food is keto compliant, this post is designed for you. My aim for writing this is to make it easier for you to understand nutrition labels to be able to make quick, informed food choices that contribute towards achieving your dieting goals.
So here’s is a sample nutrition label for a pack of sliced bread:
In this case, the label is divided horizontally into 3 sections, and I will cover each section shortly. The information in the top section (labelled “1”) helps us understand the values we read in the bottom section, labelled “2”. Section “3” gives us a footnote, and gives us important information which might clarify any confusion.
In the red circle, you might have noticed that serving sizes of most foods are calculated out of 100g. For liquids, they are calculated out of 100ml. This simply means that they have divided the food into 100g portions and calculated the ingredients per 100g. The reason for doing this is to provide a common basis for comparison – for example, if you are told that 100g of almond flour contains 9g of carbohydrates, and 100g of wheat flour contains 87g of carbohydrates, you can very quickly decide on which one is best for you.
The blue circle contains the serving size. This is a very important part of the label, as it tells us the nutritional content contained per portion served. Now the “portion” or serving size can be easily estimated wrongly, so if the serving size is 1/2 cup for example, it might be a good idea to measure it out into half a cup to get a better idea. If it is written in grams, it is better to weigh it out on kitchen scales to get an idea of what the correct serving size looks like. Adhering to serving sizes is a very good exercise for portion control if you are trying to train your stomach, because it is very easy to underestimate the amount we actually eat. You can easily order kitchen scales on sites like Amazon for less than £10.
In this case, we are looking at a loaf of sliced bread, so the nutritional information is provided on a per slice basis.
Now in Section 2, you will find a breakdown of all the elements contained in the food item. On a ketogenic or low carb diet, the aim is to reduce our carbohydrate intake to the barest minimum. Some people insist on a daily carb intake limit of 20g, which is doable as long as your are are fastidious about checking your food labels. Almost everyone on a low carb diet agrees that 50g of carbs daily should not be exceeded. It might feel like a strict regime, but let us revisit the two main reasons for for restricting one’s carb intake:
- To achieve weight loss. When you eat carbs, the body burns what it needs for energy and converts the rest to fat for storage. When you restrict your carbs intake, there are no carbs to store and your body burns its own stored fat instead.
- To prevent diabetes. If you have diabetes in the family, a low carb lifestyle will most probably be recommended by your doctor as a way of controlling your insulin and blood sugar.
If you are on a ketogenic diet, the yellow circle – which contains carbohydrates under “grams per 100g” – this should be the first thing you look at. If this number is in the double digits, put the item back on the shelf – as foods containing numbers which are too high will increase your blood glucose levels. In our example case, the label tells us in the green box that a slice of bread contains 20g of carbohydrates. This immediately puts you over the daily carb limit, so if you’re a bread lover, it’s time to start looking for alternatives.
Still on the yellow circle, you might notice that there are two lines :- “Carbohydrates – 45.5g, of which sugars – 3.8g”. If you are wondering what this means, wonder no more. Carbohydrates are quite complex macronutrients, comprising of sugars, starch and fibre which are all broken down by the body to form sugar. Some food labels like this one, highlight the portion of carbohydrates which already exist as sugar. While complex carbs will be eventually broken down to form sugar, already existing sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream quicker which means that they can provide a quick burst of energy, and they can also cause a spike in blood sugar levels. I tend to stay away from the carbs altogether – simple or complex, as the end result is the same.
I hope this helps you understand the food nutrition labels a little better, and if you’re unsure about anything, please feel free to drop a comment and I’ll clarify.