Confused About Nutrition? Here’s What You Should Know
Written by LUNA® brand food and fitness ambassador, Andy Arnold. Andy is a social media influencer, writer, blogger, student, mother and aspiring registered dietitian. She is passionate about leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle through nutrition and exercise with the goal of inspiring others to do the same.
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity.
We live in a world where information is at our fingertips. The internet and social media can make anyone an expert these days.
We all want our food to help us be healthier, but it’s confusing to know what foods to eat when there is so much nutrition information out there. Just know you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
I hope that your biggest takeaway from this article is to think critically about where you get your nutrition information from before you make any dietary changes.
Carbs Are Not Evil
When focused on managing your weight (or starting a new eating plan), the first thought for many people is to cut out all carbohydrates. As easy as it is to decide to eliminate one food group or nutrient, it’s best to look at your overall lifestyle.
Carbohydrates as a whole are not the problem; instead, it’s about the type, amount, frequency, and occasion. Unfortunately, the more nutritious sources of carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, whole grains) that are part of a balanced diet are lumped into the same “carbs are evil” conversation as pastries and desserts, which are meant to be eaten only on occasion. That’s why it’s important to understand the different types of carbohydrates and their effects on our bodies.
Carbohydrate Myths and Truths
- Myth: Carbohydrates are bad for you.
- Truth: Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are certain sources (cookies, candy) that provide little nutrition value and deliver high amounts of added sugars, making them suitable for an occasional treat or as part of an intense workout routine. On the other end of the spectrum, foods with whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats), fruit, and vegetables tend to come along with more fiber and nutrients. LUNA® whole nutrition bar is a great snack that captures both ends of the spectrum, providing both complex and simple carbohydrates.
- Myth: The only way to manage your weight is with a low-carb diet.
- Truth: If you continuously consume more calories (from carbohydrates, fats, or protein) than your body needs, you will likely gain weight. So, in order to manage your weight, you must balance what you eat with the calories you burn via activity.
- Myth: Fruit is bad because it’s high in sugar.
- Truth: Fruit contains naturally occurring sugars and is packed with fiber, plant nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. This is a good thing!
- Myth: You have to eat every two to three hours to keep you and your weight healthy.
- Truth: Making general/one-size-fits-all nutrition statements can be misleading for the majority of people. We are all different — metabolisms, age, gender, muscle mass, preference, priorities, goals (I could go all day listing things). What works for me may not work for you.
Before thinking a low-carb eating plan is the only way out, try eating more nutrient dense foods — those with fruits, veggies, whole grains, protein, and nourishing fats. Focus on portion sizes that are right for you. Drink more water. Limit excess calories from alcohol and desserts. Move your body most days of the week. Most importantly, have a healthy relationship with food and love your body!
How to Read a Food Label
The single most important thing when buying packaged food is to look at the label and ingredient list. Understanding the label can help us make healthier decisions.(1)
Serving size: This section shows how many servings are in the package along with the amount of a single serving. The nutrition information on the label is based on one serving of the food. If the package has a serving size of one cup and you eat two cups, then that is twice the amount of calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein, etc.
Percent daily value: Daily values (DV) are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Keep in mind that if you are eating more or less than 2,000 calories a day, then the percent daily values aren’t accurate for you specifically, but it is still a useful frame of reference to understand what is high or low. For instance, 5% DV is low and 20% DV is high. This is true of any nutrient whether they are nutrients you want to either limit or consume more of.
Keep an eye on these: Too much saturated fat, added sugars, cholesterol, and sodium can have a negative impact on health.(2)
- Limit added sugar and focus on foods and beverages that deliver whole grains and key nutrients.
- Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of total calories.
- Limit sodium intake to less than 2,300mg/day.
Get more of these nutrients: Fiber (daily goal: 25–38g), Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Iron, Calcium, and Potassium.
Ingredient list: This is one of the first things I look at! The ingredients are listed in descending order, the first item being the largest amount in the food and the last being the smallest.
5 Healthy Eating Tips
It's only natural to be drawn to a diet guaranteeing quick results with minimal effort. Stop the vicious dieting cycle by asking yourself the following questions:(3)
- Does it promise quick weight loss of over three pounds per week? A healthy weight loss is slow, steady, and personal. You should work with your dietitian or physician on a plan that’s right for you.
- Does it eliminate or severely restrict entire food groups? Nobueno.
- Does it encourage you to build long-term habits and incorporate exercise? I sure hope so!
- Does it suggest that you buy supplements to fuel your weight loss? This isn’t a good sign.
- With any new diet, always ask yourself: Can I eat this way for the rest of my life? If the answer is no, the plan is not for you.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Let’s be real, anyone can say anything on the Internet. We have to learn to ask more questions rather than easily believe everything we read or hear. Here are some tips to distinguish legit nutrition content:
- Is the information up to date? Nutrition research is always evolving, so an article written 10+ years ago may not be the most current or accurate source.
- What are the sources? Does it include peer-reviewed journals? Peer-reviewed journals have credibility. Journals have to be reviewed by experts in the same field in order to be approved.
- Does the website state information about the writer and their background/education?Look for the credentials of the writer.
- Is it a quick fix? Is it too good to be true? These indications are red flags and most likely not valid.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2018, January 3). Labeling & Nutrition — How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved October 16, 2018, from https://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015, December). 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
- Wolfram, T. (2017, January 2). Staying Away from Fad Diets. Retrieved July 25, 2018, from http://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/staying-away-from-fad-diets