Paying attention to what we eat and trying hard to make healthier choices, are critical first steps to a healthier lifestyle.  Whether we are trying to lose weight or just eat healthier, understanding what is in our food is critical.  One of the easiest ways to eat healthier is to select food options with fewer calories, more fiber,and less sugars.  Looking at nutrition labels in the grocery store seems like the easiest way to help pick the most nutritious choices from the many selections available.  Unfortunately  just looking at nutrition labels might not be enough....

Nutrition Label(103456)Credit: Nicholas A JoslinIn the  article “Dieters Beware: Calorie Counts Are Frequently Off”, by Jeffrey Kluger, research suggests calorie counts on many nutrition labels are off, some by as much as 18%[4165].  Worse some nutrition labels just don’t seem to add up…..  Take this healthy sandwich bread, bread selected because the nutrition label stated it had 80 calories for two slices and 12 grams of fiber (compared to the white bread many kids like with 130 calories for two slices and ~1 gram of fiber…).  Eating this “healthy bread” should save about 50 calories a day (assuming you make one sandwich for lunch at work), but after reading Mr. Kluger’s article I took a closer look at the label again.  It doesn’t add up .


Quantity (Grams)

Calories per Gram Total
Fat 0.5 9 4.5
Carbohydrates 20 4 80
Protein 5 4 20
    Total 104.5

We know how many calories are in fat (9 calories per gram), carbohydrates and protein (4 calories for each gram of either)[4166], but if we do the math it adds up to more calories than listed on the nutrition label….  In the table you can see that it adds up to 104.5 calories, not the listed 80 calories.  That’s right 105 calories, nearly as much as the less healthy white bread and with about 25 calories extra in every sandwich eaten (which over a year adds up to about an extra 1.5 lbs worth of calories).

Eating right is a critical part of developing a healthier lifestyle, but without correct nutritional information it's an uphill battle.  Below are some tips to help you "counteract" this inaccurate nutrition data –

Don't Get Discouraged - The truth is, even if nutrition labels aren’t completely accurate, they do help us make better choices than when we pay no attention at all. Bread with 105 calories isn't as good as the 80 calories we had shot for, but it certainly is better than doing nothing (or the 130 calorie white bread)!

Plan for Extra Calories – It’s better to overestimate what you are eating than to underestimate. Once a week try to cut an extra 100 calories to help offset this nutrition label problem - it might not fix everything, but over time will make a huge difference.

Exercise More - Add a little more exercise to help offset the label problem. A 10-20 minute walk right after work or maybe an extra 5-10 minutes to your workout can make a huge difference over time.

Think Long Term - One key to better fitness is to be consistent. You can lose weight this way - you just have to be ready to stick with it. The good news is that weight loss should be a gradual process and that the longer you stick with it (at least a year) the more likely you are to make a lasting change.

Stick to Good Eating Habits - Sticking with good eating habits, such as drinking plenty of water, eating protein with every meal and avoid sugary foods.  Learning to eat right can go a long way to solving your diet issues for the long run.

Use Better Tools - The best tool for gauging if you are eating too much or too little is your own body.... Keep track of what you are doing - so weigh in regularly. If you think you should be losing a pound a week, but week after week your weight does not change (or worse going up....) - adjust your diet again!

Weight loss is never easy, but understanding that calorie counting is not a precise science can help prevent frustration and improve your chances of successful weight loss.  Reading nutrition labels and counting calories are important pieces to losing weight and eating healthier, but maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism can also help.  Luckily by following the tips above we can still reach our weight loss or fitness goals, if we stick with it and apply a little of what we have just learned!

Healthy Bread?