There is so much to learn when you start out on keto, and one of the top things you need to familiarize yourself with is reading a nutrition label. This post will simplify what you need to look out for and the most important things when reading labels. If you only take away two things from this post, it would be the following:
The two most important things on a label (for someone doing keto)
KETO DIET MACROS
Before you can even begin to read a food label, you have to have a basic understanding of what macros are.
All food contains nutrients. These nutrients are grouped into two categories, namely macronutrients and micronutrients. For keto, we mostly focus on macronutrients; fats, protein and carbs.
KETO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE SWEETENERS
As you are getting to know your macros, you also need to familiarize yourself with the alternative sweeteners that are keto-friendly. In my Keto Jumpstart Course, I do a full video lesson on the best and worst alternative sweeteners on keto.
FOODS TO EAT AND FOODS TO AVOID
What is a nutritional label?
A nutrition label describes the nutrient content of the food item and it’s intended to guide the consumer in food selection and nutrient intake. A food should display a nutritional facts label, especially when it is a packaged item. The nutritional label will usually be displayed in a panel or grid on the back of the packaging. The nutritional facts label should display the following four things; nutrients, serving suggestions, ingredients, and any food allergens.
Each country has different guidelines of how a food label is displayed, but in general, the label will display the serving size of the item and the nutritional information per 100 grams. This label I am using as an example is the Coconut & Vanilla Granola from Woolies.
Under the Nutritional Information on the right-hand side, it displays the average values of:
- Energy or calories
- Glycemic carbohydrates
- Of which total sugar
- Total fat
- Of which
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Dietary fiber
- Total sodium
Below are some more examples of food labels and how each country displays it.
What to look out for first
As someone following a keto diet, the first thing you need to look for is the carb content of the item. I personally look at carb content per serving and then consider the carb content per 100g.
Carb content per serving:
In this particular example of the Woolworths Granola, the serving size is 30g. It is important to consider the nutrition of the servings size as we can easily overconsume items. I’m speaking of personal experience on this particular item. The 30 gram serving of the granola is very small and I usually eat double the serving size.
Carb content per 100g:
- As a general rule, I teach my clients, when they are eating more than 100g of a particular food, it is a good guideline to limit the carb per 100g to below 5 grams of carbs. If you are eating 200g of a specific food, your maximum carbs will be 10 grams.
- Directly under the carbohydrates, the label will also display the sugar content. For the sake of keeping this post simple, keep in mind that carbohydrates consist of sugar as well as fiber.
- Further down on the label, you’ll find the fiber content. When we are reading the carb content, we also need to subtract the fiber content.
For example, the total carbs are 4 grams on this label, and the fiber content is 16,3grams. This means that this primarily consists of fiber, and the net carb effect is negligible.
A quick lesson on net carbs – net carbs is a simple sum where we deduct the fiber content from the total carbs. In this case, the carb is negligible, but let’s take a look at another example.
Woolworths Choc Chip Crunchies
The total carbs per 100g are 56grams, and the fiber is 5,2g. This means the net carbs is 50.8 grams.
Next item on the nutrition label: Protein
Again, it is not necessary to overcomplicate things. Generally, keto is considered moderate in protein, and trying to figure out your protein intake for the day using a nutrition label can get tricky. It is much easier to use a food diary app like Cronometer to keep track of your meals and total protein intake.
Next item on the nutrition label: Fat
The nutritional label will indicate the total fat and then display the different types of fat. Keeping things simple, don’t worry too much about the different types of fat. I simply tell my clients to enjoy a variety of fats on keto. Get your fats in through olive oil, ghee, butter, avocado oil, animal fats etc.
Next item on the nutrition label: Cholesterol
Cholesterol has been blamed for cardiovascular disease for many decades, but thankfully it has been debunked. If you’d like to read more about it, you can read this blog post here.
Next item on the nutrition label: Fiber
As explained above, fiber is the part of carbohydrates that can’t be digested. Fiber plays an important role in keeping our gut bacteria healthy, and it is found in grains, fruit and vegetables.
Next item on the nutrition label: Sodium
Similar to cholesterol being vilified is sodium. Bottom line, don’t be afraid of sodium when you are following keto. An increased intake of sodium is critical for someone following keto, and maintaining a good electrolyte balance is important as you start off.
Don’t forget the ingredients list
Last but not least is the ingredients list. One can easily look at the carbs, protein and fat and because the carb content is low, think that the item is keto-friendly. The ingredients will be the second most important decision in weighing up whether you want to eat a specific food.
Although a food label may indicate that the item is low in carbs, you should also consider the ingredients. Be aware that food manufacturers disguise sugar and call it a ton of other names. Learn more about alternative sweeteners here.
There is a lot to consider when reading a nutrition label, but you shouldn’t overcomplicate things. I suggest using a food diary app such as Cronometer to keep track of your meals and learn what nutrients are in the foods you eat.
Check out some of my latest recipes below. My recipes also display the nutritional facts label indicating the fat, protein and carbs in each recipe’s serving size.