If you have ever looked at a nutrition label, you have seen these percentages:
Many people give these percentages a quick glance and decide whether the food is nutritious or not. Double digit percentages equal “nutritious.” Single digits are not as impressive. Here are three quick questions that help with this evaluation:
As you know from SANE, maximizing nutrition per calorie is key for long-term fat loss and robust health. The nutrition label above does not represent a food that maximizes nutrition per calorie. While it seems logical to assume that the food labeled above is a “good source” of Vitamin A since 10% is provided, note that takes 200 calories to provide that Vitamin A. Compare that to carrots which give us about 1,700% of our Daily Value of Vitamin A in 200 calories. It’s not about nutrition per serving, especially since serving sizes are arbitrary for most foods. It’s about nutrition per calorie.
The percentages on nutrition labels are percentages of “Daily Values.” These Daily Values were developed during World War II to help prevent malnutrition in soldiers. Avoiding malnutrition is a much different goal than long-term fat loss and robust health. Unless you are satisfied with avoiding malnutrition, then the % Daily Value isn’t particularly useful.
Channeling author Michael Pollan, people kept themselves fit and healthy for thousands of years before we had nutrition labels. Why do we need them now, especially once we know that nutrition labels do not tell us what really matters—nutrition per calorie—and do tell us information which has little to do with our goals (long-term fat loss and robust health vs. avoiding malnutrition)?
In fact, I often wonder if focusing on nutrition labels can be counterproductive. For example, taking a nutrition label at face value, it’s easy to be lead to believe that a “low-calorie” serving of sugar-saturated and metabolism-clogging cereal is “healthy” because it provides 25% of the of Vitamin C necessary to avoid malnutrition. That’s incorrect and overly complex.
You may find it simpler and more SANE to forget about percentages and counting calories and to focus on enjoying as many non-starchy vegetables, lean sources of protein, berries, citrus fruits, nuts, and seeds, as you want, whenever you want. By focusing simply on eating more—but smarter—we can:
Most importantly, we can stop doing math and start enjoying food again.