Salt, Sugar, & Serving Size: the Smart way to Decode Nutrition Labels
Grocery shopping has always intimidated me.
Where’s that item I’m looking for again, did they move it… did I remember everything on my list? Is this option for the best price?
Enter Covid-19, and grocery shopping that used to just be stressful, is a downright nightmare.
With the added pressures of lines, facemasks, social distancing rules, quantity limits, and more, I’m often tempted to skip checking those complicated nutrition labels and high-tail it out of the store as fast as possible!
I couldn’t do it anymore.
So, I decided to sit down and figure out a simple way to decode nutrition labels. A way to save time in the grocery store AND make sure I came home with healthy groceries that would keep my family healthy and nourished.
It’s what I call The Three S Rule: Check for Salt, Sugar, and Serving Size. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) crafted nutrition labels to make it easy to understand the amount of calories we will consume, the macro- and micro-nutrients available, and the various ingredients used when eating a food item.
The First S: SODIUM
Sodium is one form of an electrolyte. Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electrical charge when dissolved in a liquid. In this case, your blood stream.
Without enough sodium in your bloodstream, the cells in your body will begin to retain too much water causing them to swell. This swelling can be especially dangerous for brain cells and can result in neurological symptoms like headaches and irritability.
The good news, is you probably don’t need to worry about not ingesting enough sodium!
Studies show that the average american consumes TWICE the amount of sodium as they should EVERY day.
The bad news is, too much sodium can cause just as big of a problem for your brain health!
When you have too much sodium in your bloodstream, your body will begin to pull water from your cells to help dilute the sodium.
This can actually cause your brain cells to shrink! And may cause side effects including confusion and vomiting in more severe cases.
But, even if it never got to that extreme, I know I’m going to do everything I can to hang on to my precious brain cells!
Bottom line: Pay attention to your sodium intake! Too much, or too little, your brain will pay the price.
The Second S: SUGAR
This one hurts me personally to tell you, but sugar is hiding EVERYWHERE!
I’ve always thought a cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt was a “healthy-ish” snack….
But when I looked closer, the sugar content shows us that in just 5.3 ounces of yogurt, they have packed in 13 grams of ADDED sugar.
That’s a whopping 3 teaspoons!
Following the guidelines of the American Heart Association, 25 grams for women or 36 for men is almost the maximum amount an average adult should consume... in an entire day.
Not in a 6-scoop snack!
That is a LOT of added sugar, and unfortunately for my tastebuds, will also disrupt the same gut bacteria that this probiotic yogurt is attempting to support.
Added sugar is completely unnecessary for any vital functions and is connected to loads of inflammatory illnesses in the blood and the brain.
Here’s the hard truth: there’s no “healthy” amount of added sugar. It can all hurt your brain and body.
The Third S: SERVINGS SIZE
To measure what you’re putting in your body you need to check the Serving Size.
Ever just assumed that “one of these” is a serving size?
Take a look at this sneaky can of chicken noodle soup with me.
To determine how much this is in comparison to what the daily limit of sodium should be, you may be tempted to look at the right column and see the Daily Value percentage.
This seems to tell us that this soup satisfies 41% of our daily needs.
Well, that’s true if you only eat 1 serving. But…
At the top of the label, you will notice it says that this normal-sized can contains 2.5 servings per container, with one serving being only ½ cup (120mL) or 4oz!
If you assumed, like me, that a can of soup was a serving you could be shrinking your brain cells in sodium right now!
Check anything with a nutrition label for sodium. Canned goods, frozen meals, and store bought seasonings often contain way too much sodium for our bodies to handle.
I know there’s a lot more to nutrition than just these simple steps, but watching out for sodium, sugar, and serving size is just simple enough for me to keep in my head while I hurry through the grocery store.
They’re a perfect place to start when it comes to eating healthy. Next time you need to make a quick, healthy decision - just remember the Three S Rule.
If you want your brain to be sharp, not shrunk - watch out for your sodium, sugar, and servings!