When you pick up a food to check the nutrition label, what do your eyes gravitate towards? Is it the sugar, the fiber, the fat? In doing so, do you deem certain foods as "good" and others as "bad"?
Although nutrition labels can be a good source of some information, they don't tell us everything. What are food labels not telling you? Let's dig in.
Other vitamins and minerals
The first thing to consider is that although there are numerous vitamins and minerals our bodies need, you may notice that nutrition labels only feature a few. The ones you're most likely to see are fat (further broken down into trans fat and saturated fat), protein, carbohydrates (further broken down into fiber and sugar) and sodium. There will likely be a few additional vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron — though which ones appear will vary by regional guidelines and manufacturer preferences.
But what about vitamin E, vitamin D, B1, B12, magnesium, manganese, selenium... and on the list goes? There are more important vitamins and minerals than a nutrition label can truly capture. And what's more, those foods that are typically the richest in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits and vegetables, don't even come with a nutrition label. So we might be impressed by the fiber content on a box of cereal, only to learn that a piece of fruit could have a good deal more.
Although the details on a nutrition label can give us a jumping off point to understand where we might find sources of nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and protein — there is so much more nutritional information that simply isn't being captured.
Calories: Not the whole story
At the top of the nutrition label you're likely to find calories. Calories get a lot of focus and attention. You've likely heard the phrase "calories in vs. calories out" when it comes to weight loss. Or had a friend remark on how much or little calories a certain food contains.
A calorie is simply a unit of energy. It is defined as "the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius." That's a whole lot more clinical than all the emotion many of us might attach to how many calories we eat!
Although the calorie content on a package can give us a rough idea of how much fuel we will get from a piece of food, it's not the whole story. A food that is built up primarily of carbohydrates, for example, might technically have the same amount of calories as one that's a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats — but the former might be a great choice pre-exercise while the latter could help you feel more satiated for a few hours of work.
There is a far greater picture to look at than just calories.
How does the food make you feel?
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a nutrition label doesn't capture how the food makes you feel.
Does it make you feel nourished, satisfied, energized and ready to tackle your day? Or does it perhaps give you a jolt of energy that quickly crashes? Or even lead to symptoms such as gas, bloating or moodiness?
Food is how our bodies fuel us. And some can be well balanced and nourishing, while others might not satisfy our body's needs in the same way. It's also important to keep in mind that each of our bodies is unique and can react to foods in different ways. Food sensitivities or allergies can lead to a whole host of symptoms. There's a lot of information to be found about how a food affects us by tuning in to how our bodies feel, rather than focusing exclusively on the label.
Want to learn more about how foods can affect our bodies in ways we might not be aware of? Consider booking our Food & Mood Virtual Wellness Session for you and your team. In it you'll discover tools to support your mental health and overall wellbeing with the foods you eat.