– The importance of reading nutrition labels “up front” to simplify your life
– How “serving sizes” are completely arbitrary and make most nutrition labels useless without applying our smarter approach
– How looking for sugar and starch are in some ways the only things you need to look for on nutrition labels
– The dangers of double digit sugar on nutrition labels
– How many all natural juices have just as much if not more inSANE sugar than soda
– How all sugars are inSANE no matter their source
– How agave nectar is worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup
– How the percentages on nutrition labels are essentially irrelevant
– How nutrition *quality* is the key to avoiding heavy and sick
– How the SANEst foods the world don’t have nutrition labels on them
– How to think about organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, local, etc.
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The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor and Carrie Brown coming at you. This week we’re going to talk about Carrie Brown’s favorite subject in the world as you may have gathered from the last couple podcasts.
Carrie: It’s not leaks, people!
Jonathan: It is not leaks or leaches, if you are a long time listener, or her lack of desire to exercise; but, nutrition labels, because Carrie likes to spend hours in the grocery stores just reading nutrition labels.
Carrie: Only for your benefit, lovely people. I don’t do it for sport.
Jonathan: Well, so as she claims. The question we will answer in today’s podcast is, how should I read nutrition labels? There’s nutrition facts, all these numbers, math. What should we do? What are some tips, some general rules of thumb we can apply to make our lives simple and SANE when it comes to nutrition labels? Carrie Brown, what do you think about that?
Carrie: Tip number one…
Jonathan: Tip the first.
Carrie: Read the label!
Jonathan: Actually read the label, yep!
Carrie: Read the label, read every label. Everything that has a label on it read it, please.
Jonathan: The good news is, you don’t have to, once you find something whose label is good, and if you continue to use that, you don’t need to continue to read labels, which is good.
Carrie: You only need to read the label once.
Jonathan: Yeah, so it’s is kind of an upfront cost, but then, it’s not like for the rest of your life. It’s just like going to the library every time you go the grocery store.
Jonathan: In terms of just a few general rules of thumb, and then we can get into some more macro points. So without getting into numbers, because numbers are very difficult because serving sizes on nutrition labels are arbitrary. There’s no board that says a serving size is X. Whoever “makes the food determines the serving size.” For example, if I want to make something look low calorie, all I have to do is make the serving size very small, and now it’s 100 calories a serving and the serving is a half a cookie. So what? No one eats a half a cookie.
Carrie: At one point in my life, not for very long because they taste horrible, I ate Lean Cuisine in one of my desperate attempts to make my body do anything that I wanted it to do.
Carrie: I ate Lean Cuisine and that lasted for about five meals because as I say, they were nasty, or 10 because I think they were 10 for $1 or something…
Jonathan: 10 for $1.
Carrie: 10 for $10.00!
Jonathan: 10 for $10.00!
Carrie: I did that for like 10 meals, and the portion sizes were mad! I was like, I could’ve eaten four at once and still not be full.
Jonathan: Yeah, okay.
Carrie: I just didn’t know, I think you can, you can eat calmly in the eating sticks.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely.
Carrie: I was just mad.
Jonathan: That’s the reason I say I’m not going to talk about numbers here is that numbers can be manipulated via serving size. What I am going to talk about is more of this, less of that, kind of thing because that is absolute relative to any serving size. For example, the more fiber, the better; so we want more fiber, and if you have two options and one has more fiber than the other, go with the one that has more fiber. Second thing, more protein is better, so two options, take the one with more protein. Less sugar is better than more sugar. Two options, take the one with the less sugar. Fewer ingredients are better. Two options, one has eight ingredients, the other has five. Take the one with five, assuming that it doesn’t have more sugar, less protein and less fiber. Also, more vitamins and minerals per serving relative to calories the better. That one was a little loaded, and you haven’t listened to the podcasts on nutrition and nutrition quality and nutrient density, please listen to those because it’s not just about the total amount of vitamin C, it’s about the amount of vitamin C relative to the calories that we’re eating.
I’ll get into that more in a second, but more vitamins and minerals per serving the better. If the ingredients include any of the following, do not eat it. Added sweeteners that contain calories such as agave nectar or organic cane juice or sugar or high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated anything, trans anything, any form of starch, aka flour, corn, rice, barley, generally if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it and those I would say are the six top level tips.
There’s some more macro points we can make, but, look for more fiber, more protein, less sugar, less ingredients, more vitamins and minerals, and an ingredients list that is free from any caloric sweetener, anything hydrogenated, trans anything aka trans-fat or any kind of starch, flour, corn, rice, barley, etc…
Carrie: The great news is that you can actually kind of start with 0.6 there which was added sweeteners. You can look on the vast majority of stuff you’re going to find in the store. You look at the labels, see sugar, put it down. You don’t have to go through all eight of those points for every label. You can literally pick it up, see any grain, wheat or sugar, put it back down, and move on to the next one.
Jonathan: I love that you made that point, Carrie, because in many ways if you just avoid starches and sweets, everything else takes care of itself because the food, it’s like when there’s smoke there’s fire. If they’ve added sweeteners to it, they’ve probably added a bunch of other garbage to it as well. So, I love what you said. If it’s low in sugar, chances are… and it’s low in starch, it’s automatically already going to meet all of those other criteria.
Carrie: Read labels for everything. You would be amazed. I was reading labels, you know, just for fun. I was reading labels in the store of tomatoes, pasta sauces, tomato marinara, and it was staggering how few of them do not have sugar in them.
Carrie: I picked them up, jar after jar after jar. Sugar, back down. I didn’t have to read anything else. I just looked at whether it had sugar or not, and then so I whittled it down, got rid of all the sugar ones, left with about two to actually study to pick the best one on all the other points that you made. If you whittle out the grain and the sugar, you only really have to concentrate on a couple maybe.
Jonathan: When you say sugar, just to make sure the listeners are clear, you mean sugar in the ingredients list, not actually on the label where it says sugar.
Carrie: Right, right, right!
Jonathan: There are naturally occurring sugars in foods, and that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Carrie: Yes, I’m not looking… I’m looking for not sugar in the numbers, because there’ll be a thing that says, no sugar, three grams, or whatever. That’s not what I’m looking at the weight. I’m looking at the ingredients listing to see if sugar has been added as an ingredient. If it’s got a grain or a sugar, it goes back on the shelf until I’m left with the two or three that don’t have either of those things in, and then I compare everything else to figure out which is best.
Jonathan: I will contradict myself here for a second and talk about a number because, if you want an even quicker approach… Carrie, tell me what you think about this. If you look at the actual sugar number, and it is double digits, you might want to put that back on the shelf; because, remember, food manufacturers or producers, they know that we’re catching on that sugar is bad for us. Even if shrinking the serving size, you’ve still got double digit sugar, that’s not a good sign.
Jonathan: The vast majority of things you purchase, if you want to do like the quickest scan possible, does it have double digit sugar? If the answer is no, proceed down to the ingredients list, see if it has added sugar. If it doesn’t have added sugar, now you can do the other analysis. Then you only have to that analysis once, because once you find a brand you like… For example I use the Kirkland, the Costco marinara sauce. I think it’s one of two they carry that doesn’t have added sugars. I don’t read that label anymore, I just pick it up and I buy it.
Carrie: I buy the Trader Joe’s because the Trader Joe’s doesn’t have sugar in it. For example, using the tomato paste or the tomato sauce analogy, if you turn over and look at the number, it’s got sugar in it, that’s okay. You just don’t want it to be added sugar, because tomatoes have sugar in them, you’re going to see a number on it. We just don’t want any fake sugar added.
Jonathan: It’s going to be sub 10, and the reason I say sub 10 grams of naturally occurring sugar… The reason I mention this is because, even things like juices, they don’t have added sugar in them, but they’re concentrated sources of sugar so that rule of just look at the sugar number or even the carbohydrate number. Let me give you an example here, which is probably going to offend some listeners but I just… I’m just trying to talk in terms of math here, so that it doesn’t ruffle any feathers.
I ordered some, I think it’s pronounced, Macha Green Tea Powder from a wonderful website because I like the taste. It’s great. They sent it to me, and in the box they included a free sample of Quinoa which is the… Quinoa is the new black when it comes to grains. It’s the new hot thing, like, “Eww, I eat Quinoa.” I don’t know, it’s just that I didn’t realize grains could be cool, but apparently they can be cool.
Carrie: That’s the thing that’s spelled q-u-i- n-o-a?
Jonathan: Yes, it’s spelled Quinoa, but it’s pronounced keenwa, and it’s touted as this miracle grain; because it’s “high in protein.” I’ve never actually analyzed Quinoa, because I don’t eat grain, so I don’t really care about it. I looked at the packages. I flipped it over, and I looked at protein, and it said seven grams. I said, “Well, okay immediately this is not a good source of protein. I looked at the carbohydrates, and it said 35 grams; and I said, “Wait a second here. There’s five times more carbohydrate in this than protein, which if I’m doing my math and there’s no fat, which there is, but to simplify things that means what?” It’s like 80 percent carbohydrate by weight, like less than 20 percent protein? How is something that is less than 20 percent protein a good source of protein? It’s a good source of carbohydrate.
Looking at single versus double digits is interesting, because if you have double digit carbohydrate and single digit protein like then this is primarily carbohydrate, not primarily protein; so that’s also just single versus double digit is useful because even juices again, you look at apple juice, all natural no added sugars. You look down at down at the sugar for a serving of eight ounces, and you look at a can of Pepsi and you say, “Actually, this apple juice has more sugar in it than this can of Pepsi does.”
Carrie: To be clear to people who have been told that you know natural sugars are different blah, blah, blah, fruit sugars are different. They may be, but your body recognizes them and responds to fruit sugars exactly the same way as it does to white sugar or syrups in soft drinks.
Jonathan: Well, Carrie, what you’re saying in spirit is spot on so I’m going to agree with you violently, and I’m just going to do a slight clarification, because fruit sugar is an interesting exception. Carrie’s point is so spot on in the sense that organic cane juice is as bad for you as sugar. It does not… the most horrible example of this is a Agave nectar. Agave nectar is touted as this miracle substance because it’s low glycemic. Well, the reason its low glycemic, meaning it doesn’t spike your blood sugar, is because it’s 90 percent fructose.
To put that into perspective, high-fructose corn syrup which has been so demonized rightfully so, I believe is 42 percent fructose. So this healthy Agave nectar has more than twice as much fructose. That’s why it’s low glycemic, because fructose doesn’t stimulate an insulin response in your body; however, fructose aka fruit sugar is uniquely fattening for many of us, because it’s processed differently by the body, completely differently, it goes to the liver, and it can cause fatty liver disease.
The point is that fruit sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar. Just because the sugar comes with some vitamins in it, like for example someone says, “It’s apple juice. How could you possibly say apple juice is the same as Coke?” Well it’s not in the sense that apple juice may have some more nutrients, but if I take a vitamin pill, and I dissolve it in a can of Coke, it doesn’t make the Coke healthy. Carrie’s point is spot on in the sense that 30 grams of sugar — I do not care where it’s coming from — is not going to help your fat loss efforts.
Jonathan: That is a key point.
Carrie: Your body sees it as the same.
Jonathan: Yes, and in fact, fructose or fruit sugar for many people is actually uniquely fattening, and I know that’s going to upset some people; but when we’re picking fruits — things like low sugar, high nutrition fruits such as citrus and berries are the best options because things like grapes are just packed with fructose. They’re not particularly satisfying, and this is no Jonathan’s wild and crazy opinion. Look up fructose on Wikipedia and then look up glucose on Wikipedia and then look up lactose on Wikipedia. Lactose is dairy sugar, glucose is the sugar our body primarily runs on and fructose is the sugar from fruits. Fructose is metabolized differently by your body and the way it’s metabolized is actually more likely to cause fat gain, and if you have any questions about that, there’s a reason why high fructose corn syrup has gotten so much bad press. It’s because it’s “high in fructose,” but, folks, it’s only got 42 percent fructose in it.
There’s things out there that has even more fructose in it. This is not to say avoid fruits. It is to say just like we focus on the highest quality protein we can, just like we focus on the quality of non-starchy vegetables, the highest-quality fats, let’s focus on the highest-quality fruits we can. Processed juices, juices, things like that those are not high quality. They’ve got the fiber pulled out. They’re not whole foods, and they’re super high in sugar; so, back to nutrition labels. When you look at juice you’re going to see double digit sugar, that means put it back on the shelf.
Jonathan: So all of that was to say that sugar is bad, so avoid sugars; and you’re pretty much good.
Carrie: And grains…
Jonathan: And grains. So some general things to think about. We’re talking about nutrition labels. When we talk about numbers, so we talk about grains of sugar, we also see things like percentages. You’ll see 10 percent of vitamin C, 15 percent iron, whatever. It’s really important to understand where those numbers are coming from, because for a lot of us, I would say all of us that are listening to this podcast, they’re irrelevant.
Two important factors, one is that percentage is in terms of your recommended daily value, and these were developed during world war II to help prevent malnutrition in soldiers meaning this is 15 percent of the amount of vitamin c that you need to avoid getting rickets. It’s not 15 percent of the vitamin you need to reach optimum health.
Jonathan: Yeah, scurvy. Yes, excuse me.
Carrie: Ricketts is vitamin D, sorry.
Jonathan: Sorry. No, yes. Look at Carrie correcting my science.
Jonathan: Our goal being what it is, optimum health and nutrition, those percentages are pretty much useless because what we need versus what we need to eat to avoid dying, very different things. The other thing to keep in mind is that those percentages, again, they don’t tell us nutrition quality, meaning they don’t tell us how many calories it’s taking us to get that percent of, let’s say, vitamin A. For example, let’s say you go to the grocery store, you pick up a label, and you see this food that says I give you 10 percent vitamin A.
You say, “Okay, that seems like a pretty good source of vitamin A.” But let’s say it takes 200 calories. It takes 200 calories in a serving, and that serving has 10 percent vitamin A; and the package will claim good source of vitamin A, because it’s got double digits. However, if you look at, for example, carrots, carrots give you 1700 percent of your daily value of vitamin A in 200 calories. So common processed food A, on the label says good source of vitamin A. You flip it over it’s got 200 calorie, it’s got 10 percent of vitamin A.
Carrots would give you in 200 calories 1,700 percent of the vitamin A that you would need in a day, not 10 percent in 200 calories. The reason I’m making this point is it’s nutrition per calorie, not just raw nutrition. This is why people who eat Quinoa sometimes can be confused and say it’s a good source of protein. It’s a good source of protein relative to rice, but mathematically it’s a terrible source of protein. It takes 200 calories to get seven grams of protein, where as you could get seven grams of protein in 30 calories of lean meat.
Why eat 10 times more calories to get the same amount of nutrition? That is why we over eat, because we’re eating food that doesn’t have nutrition per calorie so we have to eat a bunch of calories to fill our nutrition needs but then we get fat and then we get sick and then we’re not happy; so nutrients per calorie.
Carrie: Got it. Except, I’ve got to say that having gone SANE, I really don’t worry about any of that anymore.
Carrie: I just eat SANE foods, and I don’t get bent out of shape over the micronutrients. I just for one, it just takes too much time, and it can be confusing; and food shouldn’t be that hard. I just look at the big things and call it good.
Jonathan: Well actually, Carrie, this is the… I wanted to say a final tip which I think is the most important, which is really what you just said, which is consider… actually I think this is going to be funny, because it’s the exact opposite of what you said earlier; but we can talk about that. Consider not looking at food labels at all, not because it’s not useful to look at them, but the SANEst foods in the world don’t even have nutrition labels on them.
When you buy meat in bulk, it doesn’t have nutrition facts. When you buy seafood in bulk it doesn’t. Spinach bought in bulk, bulk nutrient-dense meats, whole foods, fats, non-starchy vegetables, low sugar fruits, they don’t have nutrition labels on them. I’m not, understand that if it has a nutrition label on it you should read it. That’s not my point. My point is that food, meaning food we find in nature, stuff on the perimeter of your grocery store often doesn’t even have nutrition labels on it.
To your point of I don’t even focus on the minutia, you can technically take that even one step further and say that if you were really eating food that you find in nature, not only do you not necessarily have to read nutrition labels, but you can’t; because they don’t even exist on that food.
Carrie: It’s just where they come with the nutrition label make sure that you read it until you’ve figured out your, the things that you like to eat. You only have to do the nutritional label thing once.
Jonathan: The nutrition label thing again is still only going to apply to… and you could imagine someone who literally just goes to a farmer’s market and buys fish and meat and vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, nuts and seeds and never sees a nutrition label in their entre life. In fact, actually that sounds like every person who ever existed up until 60 years ago.
Really right, nutrition labels, I sometimes think that the reason nutrition labels exist is because we’ve gone so far from eating food that the only way we can know whether or not this thing is really unhealthy or just kind of unhealthy is to write a short novel on the back because no one knows, what, Go-Gurt, what the hell? I don’t know what this has in it, what is it? I don’t know, label it. I don’t know. Spinach, I don’t need a label. Spinach is good for me.
I understand, but things like seasonings, things that don’t need to be refrigerated they’re going to have labels on it, and it’s good to read it; but, to your point of not getting bogged down in stuff if you stick with non-starchy vegetables, seafood, meat, raw nuts and seeds, low-sugar fruits, there aren’t even going to be nutrition labels for you to read, so it simplifies your life even more.
Carrie: We like simple.
Jonathan: We do, so Carrie…
Carrie: I know I just said that don’t worry about the minutia, but there’s some that people that might be interested in getting your take on and that’s things like the different kinds of beef and fish that are available, so the grass-fed organic beef versus not all the wild salmon or not.
Jonathan: Or just say local vegetables versus non-organic all that stuff.
Carrie: Talk to us about that.
Jonathan: I would classify organic, wild caught grass fed local as super SANE meaning that there’s no question that these are going to be the best options available to us; however, they are not practical for many people. Let me say two things very very clearly here at the start. If you have the opportunity to eat, let’s say a small piece of wild-caught fish and a little bit of locally grown organic non-starchy vegetables and then you have to pile your plate full of rice because you couldn’t, you’re not full, don’t do that. A completely SANE conventional lifestyle is so much better for you than a partially inSANE, but organic local grass fed diet.
Carrie: Got it.
Jonathan: Okay, just to stack rank. Come super SANE organic blah, blah, blah everything and that’s all you eat is the best, the worst is conventional inSANE but very, very good. In fact, what I probably just end up doing because I just buy everything in Costco and it’s not organic everything is organic, local, grass-fed wild-caught when it’s convenient, but everything is SANE.
SANE is priority number one. All that other stuff is priority number two, but it’s great if you can do it, do it. Do not skimp on SANE foods, because you can’t afford them because you’re spending all your money on this other stuff, so instead you have to fill up with white rice, but it’s organic. Who cares? It’s killing you.
Carrie: Well, just don’t you know, yes, the focus should be on being SANE, not getting the best-quality carved beef, you know.
Jonathan: Yes, and if you can’t, beef is an interesting one because this also just isn’t about being a foodie or a gourmand, things like wild-caught fish have, for example, the super healthy fats we’re after than Farmway’s fish, especially grass-fed beef. Like grass-fed beef, it’s fair to call it a different food than corn-fed beef because eating beef that was fed inSANE food isn’t, we’re sort of just one step away from eating corn. Grass-fed beef is really a pretty good option.
I would actually say that if you’re going to eat beef that isn’t grass fed, I would highly recommend going lean cuts because a lot of the toxins, a lot of the suboptimal omega 6 fats that we already eat too much of, those are going to be found in high quantities in conventional beef. However. if you eat grass-fed beef you can do whatever you want because grass-fed beef is naturally leaner it has a different type of fat in it and this applies to wild game as well. It could be a deer or a bison, animals that eat SANE foods yield SANE foods.
Animals that are fed inSANE foods yield inSANE foods. When it comes to beef, I would say the grass-fed is pretty important. When it comes to poultry, it’s not, I would say, as important. This is more of Jonathan’s personal take right now rather than science, and when it comes to seafood I would say that it’s the least important. Wild caught sea food is better for you, but it can be very expensive and I don’t want anyone to not eat seafood because it’s so darn good for you just because it’s farm-raised or conventional.
Carrie: Right and don’t think that you cannot live a SANE lifestyle, because you cannot afford to buy the wild salmon or the expensive stuff. You can still.
Jonathan: Not only that, if you want, just pretend that you didn’t even listen to this part of the podcast, because if you never ever eat organic wild caught, grass fed, local anything and you are completely SANE, you will be healthier and fitter than 99.9 percent of the people you know.
Carrie: By far.
Jonathan: Easily. Easily, so with these things this is how to go from a 98 percent to a 100 percent. So, it’s the last two percent. If you’re like me, I don’t even think I would go to Costco, I’m like, “I’m going to get their freaking kale.” I’m not sure, I don’t know If it’s kale, there’s the kale. There’s a bag of kale. That’s what I’m eating. Costco just has one bag of kale, that’s what I get.
Carrie: So again, don’t get hung up on the minutia, just don’t.
Jonathan: An interesting trivia bit there are some people who really like to geek out on this stuff. A lot of people who are really into the Paleo movement are just super, super into only eating grass-fed this, that, that. That’s wonderful. More power to them, but if you’re not about that, that’s fine, and, in fact, it’s interesting that some people actually get so into this there’s not actually a term, it’s called orthorexia where ortho and rexia are the Latin derivatives of correct and appetite.
It’s similar to anorexia where it’s actually a eating disorder where people become so preoccupied with the quality of the food they’re eating, which is kind of funny to hear me say because I’m all about the food quality, but I’m talking like, was this cow… what kind of grass was it eating? How was it slaughtered? How old was it when it was? That’s fine, I’m not trying to criticize those people but all I’m saying is that, it’s very easy to take anything too far and I don’t want the take-away message is, I would highly recommend not becoming neurotic about food, because that’s the exact thing we’re trying to move away from. Right, Carrie? We’re trying to get back to just eating food and being happy and living our lives. I even had to do this when I was researching the new book. I was listening to all kinds of nutrition-related things out there and I started to become orthorexic, and I just said because they were like watch out for this and what about this and, I was like, No! No mas!
Carrie: The internet can drive you crazy, and I think one of the problems with the internet is that you don’t actually know what’s true and what isn’t; but I think we all go, “Well I’ll just look up whatever on the internet,” and we go, “Oh well, that must be true.” I’m sure a vast majority of the stuff on the internet is absolute nonsense.
Jonathan: The other key thing to keep in mind, Carrie, is that something can be… let’s say it’s true, it can be true and irrelevant. Here’s what I mean. There’s no question that hormones, there’s hormones in meat, we know that. I have never seen — it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist — if folks you know of one, please send me a link to it, of a study which has proven that eating meat with hormones in it harms human health. It might, but if someone says, “Don’t eat meat with hormones, because it hurts your health; instead eat rice.” That’s not proven.
I don’t care how many degrees that person has, until it’s been proven, it’s just speculation. Let’s say it is bad. Is it bad enough to actually do anything? A good example of what I’m talking about here is prostate cancer in men. If a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer at 65, they don’t do anything about it because prostate cancer is so slow to develop that the prostate cancer wouldn’t kill the man until he was like 150, because it’s so slow. So just like, for example, if you smoked a quarter of a cigarette every month of your life, you’re not going develop lung cancer just because you’ve never taken in enough to do anything, so even if these minutia things… One, often times it’s never been proven that they’re harmful. It’s suspected, but it’s not proven and then, even if it was proven, you have to ask are you consuming enough of it for it to matter, so there’s two levels of defense there. You see what I’m saying?
A lot of these top 10 lists… oh, my God, worry about this, and you can’t use water bottles now because of this and you shouldn’t eat fish because of this and you shouldn’t eat vegetables because of this and you shouldn’t eat meat because of this and you can’t eat grains because of GMO’s, and pretty soon all you can do is drink water, but you can’t even drink water because it’s coming out of your tap and it has fluoride in it, and that’s going to kill you, too.
Carrie: The internet can drive you completely crazy.
Jonathan: It has probably not been proven and even if it has been proven, you’ve got to see if you’re consuming it in sufficient quantities for it to actually do anything. I’ll tell you two things that have been proven. Starch and sweeteners break you down. They break you down in quantities that most of us consume every day. Let’s worry about eating so much SANE food, that we’re too full for those things and once, we’ve mastered that and want to take it further, we can.
Jonathan: Keep it simple. Jonathan Bailor, Carrie Brown, we’re living the Smarter Science of Slim. We’ll see you next week.
[End of Audio 31:19]