What to Look for on Food Nutrition Labels


Now that you’ve discovered the basics of macronutrients and how they relate to your caloric intake, let’s talk about some different aspects to look at regarding our food nutrition labels. 

The food industry is sneaky. While it has to disclose most information about its food products, it doesn’t have to educate you on how to decipher its labeling. Remember, the more educated you are about your foods the less the food industry can persuade you with savvy marketing ploys. So being conscious of what you’re digging into will allow you to make more informed decisions of what (and how much) you’re consuming.

Here’s a little bit of information on what to look at/for when you’re reading those obscure numbers on the nutrition labels of your foods.


Let’s start at the top and work our way down:

Serving size 

The information listed on the nutrition label is usually for one serving. Many foods will have more than one serving per package. The best way to determine your serving size is to follow the label instructions for measurements (ex: grams, oz, or mL) as opposed to products numbers (ex: 15 chips), as each individual food item is not always uniform in size (and if you’re like me, I am going to pick the biggest, crunchiest …. carrots [chips] …. first)




Remember, this number is rounded. So now that you know how to calculate your macros and why it’s more important than simply tracking calories, just use this number as a general reference if you want to know how much energy you’re consuming.




Total Fat

This first number is going to be your TOTAL amount of fat in the serving suggestion. this includes unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats.

a.) Saturated fats: Saturated fats have been given a bad rap for the wrong reasons, blamed for causing heart disease and contributing to obesity. Recent research is proving this not to be so true. In fact, eating too much of anything (more calories than you burn) is the leading contributor to these diseases.

Fun fact: Saturated fat has recently been shown to improve brain functioning, nerve signalling, and immunity just like other fats do. It could also be a possible precursor to increased testosterone in males. Some reviews (here, here, or here) found that those who consumed higher amounts of saturated fats have no higher rates of cardiovascular diseases than those who consume less. Other studies (here, here, or here) concluded that replacing saturated fats with healthier types of fats lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. One thing that’s know for sure, is that it is paramount to consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fats in the diet to ensure a healthy heart and blood.

Bottom line: don’t worry so much about saturated fats as long as you’re getting in an appropriate level of unsaturated fats like omega-3’s every day too.

The saturated fats listed on your nutrition labels have already been included in the total grams of fat listed above it, so don’t count them separately.

b.) Trans fatThis fat is a byproduct of partially hydrogenated oils, and is added to foods to help increase flavour and shelf-life stability. It has been banned in many countries and the FDA no longer recognizes it as “safe”. It has been shown in many studies to increase our risk of cardiovascular disease when commercially produced. It naturally occurs in small amounts in some animal products, but a recent review didn’t find any links to increase health concerns with it. Bottom line: Try your best to avoid it. So far, science has done a great job linking the commercially-produced trans fats  to the increased risk of many health problems. Like saturated fats, any trans fats listed will have already been included in your total fats above.

The trans fat and saturated fat in your food product usually WON’T add up to your total fat numbers. As we can see above, 0.5g of saturated fats + 0g trans fats DOESN’T add up to the 7g of fat listed above. This is because most nutrition labels don’t include grams of unsaturated fats in their foods. They would merely be included in your total fat numbers.  



While it has a bad rap, cholesterol is a molecule naturally made in the body, and it’s critical for our cells to adapt to temperature fluctuations, produce hormones, and even help us digest our food. There is NO convincing research to support the claims that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease and atherosclerosis. In fact, many natural sources of cholesterol (like eggs) are more beneficial than harmful for us- not to mention they contain important vitamins and minerals along with healthy fats). So unless you have a pre-existing heart or artery condition and your doctor recommends you avoid cholesterol in foods, don’t worry so much about it.



As a mineral, it doesn’t contain any calories. Just like saturated fats and cholesterol, it has a bit of a bad reputation. While many studies in the past have correlated sodium intake with high cholesterol, one must realize high sodium usually comes with an unhealthy diet overall, which will increase your risk for many chronic diseases. But sodium intake itself has actually not been proven to cause fat gain over long-term ingestion, and frankly, your body needs it to function. Sodium is crucial for every single cell in your body, especially for nerves and muscle to function optimally. Consuming excess salt has not been linked to hypertension either, and it has been found to be especially beneficial in bodybuilders. Yes, inconsistent levels of sodium (say, an irregular amount in one or two days) will cause short term weight gain due to water retention. 

The bottom line: Unless you already have high blood pressure, kidney problems, are salt-sensitive, or have another condition that requires a low-sodium diet, I wouldn’t stress too much about your sodium intake. always make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. 



The number of carbohydrates are going to be your TOTAL carbohydrates, including sugar, fiber, and starches. 

Dietary fiber: Fiber is extremely important in the diet, and is cited to be a big indicator of regulating your digestive health and increasing feelings of satiety (so you’re fuller longer). I have a full post about the importance of fiber. But, bottom line, make sure you’re getting enough! Fiber will give you a LOWER caloric value per gram than other carbohydrates, but still include your fiber count in your overall carb intake, as it is broken down and utilized quite well in the large intestine for energy.

Sugar: This is a huge discussion topic for me (check out my post on sugar here), and the source of many health misconceptions. Sugar is not inherently “BAD” like many people preach. Yes, too much sugar is not going to help you or your blood sugar levels so moderation is probably best. But sugar in all forms is a carbohydrate and news flash: ALL carbohydrates you eat will be broken down into glucose before it enters your blood for transport to the rest of your body. As long as you’re getting in enough fiber throughout the day and staying within your caloric limits (hitting your macros), you won’t be gaining weight if you eat a little bit of the sweet stuff. Fun fact for all you agave-loving fructose-hating people: The type of sugar you’re consuming doesn’t make you gain any more weight than another type, since they all have the same caloric value per gram. 

Ensure ALL of your carbohydrates don’t come from sugar- getting in enough fibre is paramount to your health. The bottom line: don’t freak out over the sugar content of foods, but don’t go on a candy binge either. Sugar is just another carbohydrate, so eat it in moderation with enough fibre-rich foods. If you have any problem regulating your blood sugar, then please listen to all medical advice from your doctor and not me. (Read our full article on sugar by clicking HERE)



If you’ve read my post on the basics of macronutrients, you know the importance of protein in your diet, so be sure to look out for higher-protein foods if you have trouble getting in enough!





What are those numbers on the right? 

Those are your percent daily value, or %DV. This value is based on your country’s valuation of a “healthy” standard diet. It is usually based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you are tracking macronutrients, then you will have been given a specific nutrient and caloric amount that is INDIVIDUALIZED to you. Therefore, I usually find it helpful to just ignore these numbers as they will only confuse you. If your nutrition labels states percentages of your “standard daily value” on the right, they will more than likely explain their nutrient breakdown below the label or somewhere else on your food packaging. 


Being able to fully interpret nutrition labels is going to be an important tool in your arsenal of dietary intelligence. It is not obsessive, it is being aware of what you’re buying and consuming on a daily basis (and that’s why companies HAVE to put nutrition facts on things). The more aware we make ourselves, the less we can be coerced by unrealistic marketing. So go forth, interpret your nutrition labels, and conquer the convoluted world of human nutrition.  


Interested in coaching with EVLV fit? Head over to our coaching page to see our qualifications – and ask all your questions in our contact box! 


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©2018 EVLV fit

EVLV fit is not a physician or registered dietician. This website, the information disclosed on it and all of its contents are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical health problems. It should not be used in replace of advise from a medical physician. Always consult your doctor, physician, or qualified medical health professional for health matters.

Is PROTEIN really Muscle-Building Magic?

PROTEIN. It’s the answer to all things bodybuilding, and maybe life in general for those living the “Bro way”. The golden chalice of youth and gains is filled with chocolate-flavoured whey and chicken breast. But how do us mere mortals know how much protein we need to take in every day? And why is protein such an important aspect of getting that optimum, muscular physique?
Is protein the golden macronutrient for muscle growth?
Eating protein does one essential thing for our bodies: it increases Muscle Protein synthesis (or MPS). MPS refers to the rate of protein synthesis of actual muscle fibres. This is used as a marker of muscle growth. Consistent increases in MPS will result in visible muscle growth over time.
*In order to have muscle GROWTH, our MPS must exceed muscle breakdown.
Layne Norton released a study in 2012 suggesting Leucine, an amino acid (there are 21 that make up proteins in foods), may be the most important determinant of MPS in the body.
The bottom line? Amino Acid availability (aka protein we consume) has been found to increase the stimulation of MPS and can result in higher muscle anabolism (building) than if we don’t eat adequate amounts of protein.
So we increase our MPS by eating more protein, and lots of it, right?
Well, yes and no. Just like everything else in the science world, nothing is that black and white. Yes, consuming bolus amounts of protein DOES increase our muscle protein synthesis, but there are other factors that also play a large role, like:
Resistance training increases MPS up to 24-48 hours

1. Resistance training has huge effects on increasing MPS 24-48 hours after your lifting session. Resistance exercise and proper nutrient intake has been shown to be significantly more effective for increasing MPS than simply nutrition or exercise on their own.

2. Hormones also play a huge role. Insulin and testosterone are the two most important.
The effectiveness of MPS is not maximized without the presence of insulin, which is increased the most with ingestion of carbohydrates. Studies using protein ingestion paired with carbohydrates tended to increase lean body mass more than just a protein source alone (here, here, here). This may be through insulin’s ability to stimulate nutritive flow into muscles and receptor signalling. Research suggests insulin can inhibit the increase in muscle breakdown following exercise also.
Increases in testosterone are seen after bouts of resistance exercise like weightlifting. Testosterone plays a role in our physique by decreasing protein breakdown, increasing MPS, and may improve the efficiency with which our bodies use animo acids to build new proteins. While the role of testosterone is still not fully understood, studies have shown that supplementing with testosterone increases lean body mass in test subjects (no pun intended), yet some studies have failed to see an increase in MPS just from higher testosterone levels alone. But like anything about the human body, reactions are not usually dictated by one single mechanism or hormone but rather a cascade of stimuli. 
So, how much protein do we NEED?
Higher performance needs? You probably need more protein too

The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 0.8g per kg body weight, or 0.36g per lb. This is considered the absolute MINIMUM to meet your daily nutrient requirements. It does NOT take into account physical activity, let alone resistance training. So if you don’t do anything active and aren’t looking to change your physique in any way, use those guidelines.

The higher your performance needs (or the more intensely you workout) will affect your protein requirements. If you are any kind of athlete, you need to consume more than the RDA in order to reach your physique or performance goals. 
Eric Helms released a systematic review finding sufficient levels of protein for resistance-trained athletes to be 2.3-3.1g per kg (about 1.05-1.40g per lb) of fat free mass (NOT total bodyweight). Menno Henselmans’ article regarding the current research found that 0.82g per lb bodyweight to be sufficient for maximizing protein synthesis. Anything more ceases to yield any benefits, even when dieting.  
So the general “golden rule” of 1g per lb bodyweight circulating the gym-rat world may not be entirely necessary, but if you’re a beginner it may be a nice round number to start off with.
What about protein timing?
Nutrient timing may be beneficial when it comes to gaining muscle

A 2006 study showed an increase in muscle mass and strength in people who consumed protein pre- and post-workout (versus people who didn’t, but still ate the same amount of protein throughout the day).  A 2010 study found that consuming protein immediately after a strength training session improved recovery compared to a placebo. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether it was the timing itself of the protein, or the overall protein intake that resulted in the faster recovery. Either way, there is a multitudinous amount of research pointing towards pre- and post-workout nutrition as being an important factor in your fitness goals. Research points to MPS rates being elevated up to 24 hours after your weights session, so ultimately it’s your overall intake throughout the day that matter the most. 

To MAXIMIZE your protein synthesis, Layne Norton’s research suggests consuming at least 3g of leucine per meal, and eating larger doses of protein every 4-6 hours may help maximize muscle protein synthesis (aka an anabolic effect). If you have the extra time, meal frequency might help you maximize your MPS. Eating a bolus amount of protein (30-60g) in one sitting every 4-6 hours may help to keep MPS elevated throughout the day, making your muscle building potential more consistent throughout the day. 
What happens if you eat MORE protein than the recommended amount?
Well, first let’s get this out of the way for you #bros: ** EATING EXTRA PROTEIN DOES NOT MEAN BUILDING MORE MUSCLE ** The key is to balance out your daily caloric intake between carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in order to maximize your physique or performance goals.
But on that note, let’s address the critics on too much protein. 
Too much protein – bad for the kidneys?

The biggest concern with too much protein is kidney damage, as protein does modulate renal function. if you have healthy kidneys and are not on a protein-restricted diet, there isn’t much research to suggest higher protein intake over time is damaging. Research suggests that potential damage occurs when subjects eat “too much, too fast” as opposed to increasing your protein intake over a time period. A 2000 review suggests that protein intake under 2.8g per kg (1.27g per lb) does not impair renal function in athletes. 

Same goes for the liver. There is no current evidence to suggest consistently “higher” (but still normal) protein intake is harmful to the liver, unless you consume a ton of protein after a 2-day fast of no food at all or have an unhealthy liver to begin with. 
There is also some evidence that regular exercise can help to alleviate any possible adverse effects of a higher protein intake on organ function. 
Truth or myth? Our bodies can only absorb so much protein at one time.
Pair your protein with other macronutrient sources, like carbs and fats.

Well, kind of but not really. The small intestine, where protein is digested and absorbed into the blood stream, is very efficient at slowing digestion over time in order to absorb all the protein you consume. Keep in mind, though, that eating more protein in one sitting won’t increase your MPS past its maximum, which is usually achieved at 30-40g of animal protein to get the minimum benefit from leucine, as stated above. 

Since the potential benefits of consuming higher levels of protein include building and preserving muscle mass, burning fat, and increasing performance output, why is 20% of our daily intake suggested?
Well, for one protein is a terrible energy source. If we only need specific levels to maximize MPS, then the rest of our calories should be coming from fats and carbohydrates (Check out my Beginner’s Guide to Macronutrients for a breakdown of why they’re important). Other aspects of health like proper digestion (and getting enough fiber), blood sugar regulation, hormone regulation, brain function, and diet variety should also be considered- their ideal functioning needs to come from other macronutrients. Other than the present-day cave men, who really wants to eat chicken breast and tuna all day, every day? Not me, that’s for sure #GiveMeBread&PeanutButterAmIRight?
Protein intake won’t matter is calories aren’t controlled too

So, Protein = muscles, right? Yes, protein is a fuel for your body. But you still need to pair it with consistent resistance training and recovery over an extended period of time to see real physique changes like weight loss or muscle growth. 

The biggest thing to remember, though, is that protein will have no effect on your physique if your caloric intake is not controlled. Simply eating more protein may land you in an over-eating phase and cause you to gain fat. No matter the macronutrient, calories are calories and extra calories will be stored as fat. Also keep in mind that consuming foods high in protein doesn’t mean protein is the ONLY macronutrient in that food- it could land you in the high-fat or high-carb levels as well, so be sure to do your homework on nutrition (learn how to interpret nutrition labels here) before raising your whey-filled chalice of gains.
Some High-protein Foods Include:
– Meats (Chicken, beef, fish, pork, etc)
– Dairy (Yogurt, cheese, milk, etc -preferably low fat options)
– Soybeans/soy products
– Eggs/Egg whites
– Protein Powders or bars (vegan or non, like whey)
– Roasted Peanuts (while low in overall protein and higher in fats, peanuts contain the highest levels of leucine per gram of protein)
– Beans/Lentils (keep in mind these are also higher in carbs)


Interested in coaching with EVLV fit? Head over to our coaching page to see our qualifications – and ask all your questions in our contact box! 


Want to read More?

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©2018 EVLV fit

EVLV fit is not a physician or registered dietician. This website, the information disclosed on it and all of its contents are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical health problems. It should not be used in replace of advise from a medical physician. Always consult your doctor, physician, or qualified medical health professional for health matters.