For all the confusion people have about understanding a nutrition label, it’s really not that difficult, and it’s well worth your time to grasp so you can take care of your health.
A common mistake people make is thinking that the numbers listed on a label apply to a whole package; not true. Everything you see on a label is defined in the context of the serving size (located at the top; notice the “amount per serving” text as well). Some labels also show the amount of servings contained in the packaging for a given product. For example, if a serving size is one cup, and there are 3 servings in a package, you would multiply all of the numbers that follow by 3 to know what is in the bag of food you just bought.
Next, we’re shown the total calories per serving. Law mandates that the total calories from fat per serving be shown as well. Here you can immediately find what percentage of calories are coming from fat in this food by dividing the fat calories by the total calories. Below, you’ll see the breakdown of the calories in the food amongst the 3 macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, & protein) by weight (listed in grams). To understand how many calories any nutrient contains refer to the following:
Fat = 9kcal/gm
Carb/Protein = 4kcal/gm
So for fat, you would multiply the number listed by 9 or, for carbs & protein, by 4.
Law again mandates places for the amount of Saturated & Trans fat in this food. Some labels will also show lines for Polyunsaturated & Monounsaturated fats but they are not required (these are your “good fats”).
Total carbohydrate is listed next while also showing a breakdown between fiber & sugar. If you’ve ever heard the term “net carbs”, this is in reference to the amount of carbohydrates digested as opposed to the total listed on the label. Fiber is indigestible, therefore is does not yield any calories. So any calories present in fiber can be subtracted from the total calories from carbohydrates to understand what you’re body will actually absorb.
Protein follows at the bottom listed in the same manner as fat & carbohydrate above. Special places are accorded for cholesterol & sodium to conform with regulations, however these do not contain any calories and, therefore, don’t influence the numbers for fat, carbohydrate, or protein.
On the right, you’ll notice the “% Daily Value” column. The percentages listed are in the context of a 2,000 calorie diet following the US RDA recommendations (approximately 30% Fat, 60% Carbs, & 10% Protein). This means that the percentages are only valid if you are following the US RDA recommendations. The percentages listed for cholesterol & sodium depict the upper tolerances for these substances; in other words, a 100% cholesterol intake for a given day is the most that the US RDA is comfortable letting you get away with.
Finally, on the bottom of the label are the 4 micronutrients mandated by law; Vitamins A & C, Calcium, & Iron. The percentages are again listed with context of the same 2,000 calorie diet we just referenced. A given food may contain many more micronutrients in it than just these 4, however, these are the only ones that have to be listed. Manufacturers of certain items may list more (such as Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Zinc, Manganese, etc.) as a courtesy to their customers.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
In response to the body of research that’s grown in the last century demonstrating a diet high in animal fat to be a precursor for many preventable diseases, the dairy industry began marketing varieties of “low-fat” milk. Walk into any commercial grocery store and you will commonly find 3 types of milk: 1%, 2%, and Whole.
Although it isn’t currently illegal, these titles can be very misleading because, unless you are buying skim milk, there isn’t a low-fat milk (only less-fat milks).
Countless people have undoubtedly bought a carton of 1% or 2% milk over the years, only walk out of the store believing that the percentage being marketed is in reference to the amount of calories from fat contained in the product. This is actually very far from the truth.
1% Milk = 20% Fat
Here is a label for 1% milk:
A basic understanding of math reveals the misrepresentation of dairy industry marketing:
21 Fat Calories / 102 Total Calories = ~20% Fat
If the milk is really 20% fat, how can they market it as being 1% and get away with it? Because the 1% is in reference to the fat’s weight (2g Fat/244g Per Serving = ~1% Weight). (I have little doubt that this is the result of lobbying). Of course, your body doesn’t care how much your food weighs, only how many calories it contains. So, however the dairy industry chooses to market their products doesn’t change their effect on the human body.
Repeating the process for 2% milk, we find it contains 35% fat:
43 Fat Calories / 122 Total Calories = ~35% Fat
In Comparison to Whole Milk
Everybody knows whole milk is high-fat, but how do the “low-fat” milks compare to their unrefined counterpart…
71 Fat Calories / 146 Total Calories = ~48% Fat
And just for curiosity, let’s see how much that fat weighs:
8g Fat/ 244g Per Serving = ~3% Weight
There are a lot of ways food products can be legally marketed to give you a false impression as a consumer. The road to health begins with an understanding of what exactly you’re body is dealing with on a daily basis. Educate yourself so you can make good decisions for a lifetime.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
For the past few decades, it’s been trendy to thrash on carbohydrates as the source of all things wrong with poor body composition, obesity, lack of fitness, & a dysfunctional metabolism. To the detriment of our health and the understanding of how the things we put into our bodies interact, modern nutrition science has adopted a compartmentalized view of food.
Instead of making qualitative assessments along the lines of how many fresh, whole fruits & vegetables an individual is consuming, most instead choose to examine the quantities of macronutrients in one’s diet. By extension, many foods are now known by their predominant nutrient (i.e. rice = starchy carbs, meat = protein, vegetables = fiber, nuts = fats, etc.).
The problem with this model is that, with the exception of processed sugar, oil, lard, & protein powder, isolated nutrients don’t exist in the foods we consume. In the words of Dr. Michael Greger, “food is a package deal.” Meat has high quantities of protein, but it also has high quantities of fat, cholesterol, & hormones. Vegetables have high quantities of fiber, but they also have protein, micronutrients, healthy fats, & carbohydrates (yes, vegetables have carbs).
The result is that when a 21st century nutritionist attempts to assess an obese client’s reason for being so, they boil it down simply to the caloric breakdown with little regard for their sources.
What we’ve seen from this paradigm is everybody becoming incessantly afraid of carbohydrates…or at least what they perceive to be carbohydrates.
Junk Food Made You Fat
When people attempt to clean up their diet, any reasonable attempt should begin by eliminating junk food (i.e. cookies, candy, ice cream, burgers, pizza, chips, pastries, soda, energy drinks, sports’ drinks, popcorn, etc.). If you don’t know what junk food is, you shouldn’t be reading this yet.
There’s a lot reasons why junk food leads to obesity & all of the associated diseases. Most people believe it is the carbohydrate content of these foods; after all, most junk food tastes sweet, so it must have too much sugar…right?
This myth of junk food being high-carbohydrate persist because many people don’t read nutrition labels properly. For example, lets look at a common label for ice cream:
What you see above is a general label for 100 grams of vanilla ice cream. The macronutrient distribution is listed by weight (in grams) for each of the 3 macros: fat, carbohydrate, & protein, with special places for saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, and sugar.
By weight, the most predominant nutrient is sugar at 21g, while the fat content is almost half as much weight at 11g. Most stop here and say, “ice cream is high-carb! Carbs make you fat!” However, the body doesn’t derive energy from how much something weighs. You could drink your bodyweight in water and not gain an ounce of caloric energy.
The body works by deriving energy from calories. So to accurately understand what is contained in this ice cream, we must examine the caloric content, rather than the macronutrient weight. For anyone not familiar, carbohydrates & protein yield 4kcal/gm, while fat yields 9kcal/gm. Fat is more than twice as dense as carbohydrates in it’s energy content. So when we run the numbers, we come up with the following:
Total Fat – 99kcal
Saturated Fat – 63kcal
Total Carbohydrate – 96kcal
Sugars – 84kcal
Ice cream yields 48% of its calories from fat, while 45% from carbohydrates! Therefore, ice cream is not a high-carb food, it is a high-fat food. This trend continues for pretty much all of what is normally constituted as junk food.
Chronic fat consumption above 25% of total calories is almost always linked with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, and hormonal disruption (some are keen to suggest total fat levels of 10% or less). All of these foods, most of them being staple items for any individual eating a western diet, far exceed this number, thus, they are all high-fat foods.
*Note* It’s worth mentioning also that the fat content in these & related foods doesn’t come from almonds, flaxseed, walnuts, or avocados. These items are rich in animal fats (butter, lard, milk, eggs) and oils (canola, soybean, hydrogentated oils, etc.), both of which are high in saturated fat & trans fats, the leading causes of cardiovascular disease.
Fruit Does Not Make You Fat
One silly argument that persists from the false notion that sugar is the reason junk food makes people gain weight is that fruit is bad for you because fruit contains sugar. We’ve already established that there’s a lot more going on with junk food than just some sugar, so let’s see what the nutrient profiles of fruit look like:
Here’s a couple other high-carb foods for consideration…
*Note* Most people don’t consume rice or potatoes on their own. Instead, they slather them with salt, butter, and/or oils. If you think rice, potatoes, oats, etc. is making you fat or gain weight, cut out the toppings and condiments.
Compartmentalized nutrition studies are ruining our understanding of foods affect on the body. Use your common sense and remember what mom used to tell you, “eat your fruits & vegetables.“
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
The pushup is one of the standards of the strength & conditioning world. Although widely used by novice & advanced trainees alike, the true value & importance of the pushup is often neglected. Done properly, the pushup is one of the best exercises to help develop structural integrity (the ability to properly distribute loads across your entire body). They’re also a convenient way to develop pressing power & endurance and core strength.
The downside of the pushup is that it’s easy to let your ego take over. The pushup doesn’t get the respect that it deserves because a lot of people are strong enough to do a handful of pushups already. Since they can already do them, people assume they can already do the properly. Thus, many individuals never go through a quality assessment regarding their pushup technique, instead opting to chase numbers and outperform their buddies.
Taking a step back to learn how to do a pushup the right way will ultimately set you up to get much more out of the exercise down the road. You’ll also never be accused of doing half-reps or having shoddy form.
Step 1: Bracing
Though many think of the pushup as a pushing exercise, the most fundamental quality of the pushup is actually bracing (properly aligning your major joints so that your body can act as one unit). The best exercise to teach bracing is the plank. Upon analysis, it’s easy to see that the pushup is really a version of the plank that incorporates vertical movement.
The hip/core/spine relationship remains the same in both exercises, and it’s important to be able to maintain pelvic & spinal neutrality during the pushup. Planks allow for you to concentrate on this aspect specifically before incorporating the mechanics of pressing.
To get the most out of your efforts bracing, use the high plank (plank done on the hands rather than the elbows). This is the finish position of the pushup and it most closely replicates the weight distribution you’ll encounter as well.
Step 2: Rooting
Being well-anchored to the ground is another fundamental part of doing a proper pushup. This is known as rooting. Your 4 contact points with the ground (both hands & both feet) are where you want to place your emphasis.
With respect to your hands, you should have an active grip on the ground (as if you were palming a basketball) rather than passively laying on your palms. The main loading point should be the heel of your hand at the base of your wrist. Setting these two things properly engages the muscles of the forearm & provides stability to the wrist, minimizing the chances of damaging the joint. Your grip width should be roughly shoulder-width apart.
Your feet should be putting backwards pressure into the ground, almost as if you were getting ready for a sprint. Doing this right stabilizes your ankles, and allows for you to flex the muscles of your legs during the exercise, which brings in an added element of stability to the hips. Your stance should be roughly hip-width apart.
Step 3: Head Position
Many individuals make the mistake of looking up during a pushup in an attempt to keep their face out of the way in the bottom position. For balanced muscle involvement at the neck, the position should be avoided. The head should be braced in a neutral position with the rest of the spine. Engaging the muscles on the front of your neck, as if you were trying to give yourself a double-chin, will accomplish this task.
If you have trouble with this, practice the position upright against a wall so you can develop the proper feeling.
Step 4: Arm Positioning
Like a bench-press, your arms should be somewhere between 45° and parallel to your torso. A lot of beginners mistakenly flare their elbows very wide in the pushup. Not only does this actually make the exercise unnecessarily difficult, but it also leaves the shoulder more vulnerable to injury.
Bringing your elbows in more allows for the triceps & delts to contribute to the exercise more equally, optimizing performance and mitigating harmful stress at the shoulder joint.
Step 5: Descent
Similar to maintaining an active grip on the ground, you also want to be active in your descent. Instead of air dropping, imagine pulling the ground up to you. This allows you to more efficiently maintain tension so you can express more power on the ascent. Keep your butt & abs tight always. Lower yourself until you just tap the ground with your nose.
Step 6: Ascent
Keeping your hips, core, & head braced in a neutral position, push through the heel of your hand, squeezing your chest & triceps as your lockout at the top. Pause for second and repeat.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
Fitness is a circular phenomenon. As a sedentary person, one is relegated to the middle point of his or her own circle. Once you begin regular activity, your circle will begin to expand. This is referred to in the athletic world as General Physical Preparation (G.P.P.).
Optimizing Your Physical Capacities
The philosophy behind G.P.P. is to prepare your body for as broad a spectrum of physical activity as possible. The most efficient way to do this is to pursue the basic capacities of the human body: lifting, carrying, walking, running, & jumping (depending on the sport, other activities specific to that sport may be included at a base level). There are different movement types & patterns that are sub-categorized below these capacities, but this is the broad spectrum.
All of us are born with an inherent potential of fitness. Some of us will be predisposed to endurance or power activities depending on our build before we ever engage in sport & exercise. G.P.P. is aimed at fulfilling that potential in each capacity, however high or low it may be.
None of us will be perfect circles; instead we’ll be lop-sided with respect to our build and athletic preferences.
“Respectable fitness” is the fulfillment of one’s own G.P.P. Beyond this is the realm of competitive athletes; certain capacities will be favored, while others are ignored in order to develop the athlete’s body to perform a specific task at a high-level (known as Specific Physical Preparation; S.P.P.). This is why Olympic weightlifters don’t run much (if at all) and why professional cyclists don’t lift weights a lot.
GPP & The Athlete
Another way of expressing the difference between G.P.P. & S.P.P. is the use of the terms “in-season” & “off-season” training. For example, NFL players don’t train the same year-round. During the off-season, the bulk of a player’s routine is geared towards developing the general capacities (with emphasis on lifting, running, & jumping due to the requisites of American football). If sports’ drills are performed, it’s merely to “keep the rust off” or to give the athlete a break from the general work.
Once the season begins, the athletes switch to more specific drills & exercises (essentially, they practice the game more). The general capacities established during the off-season are relegated to maintenance, with no more work being dedicated to them than what’s necessary (for purposes of recovery).
To contrast, a player is stronger, faster, has better endurance, & healthier at the end of his “off-season” (G.P.P.) training period. However, he is a better football player at the end of the NFL season (because he has been playing the game for 4 months). Unless you intend to be a powerlifter, a marathon runner, a sprinter, a high-jumper, or a strong-man (these being the specialized forms of the general capacities), you don’t need to overemphasize your G.P.P. training in any one area.
Specialization (Beyond The Circle)
A common misconception in the public mind is that expanding your potential in each of the general capacities will make you more proficient at the others as well. This is only true up to the point of your natural physical potential. Beyond that, fitness takes on a push-pull relationship.
The more you specialize in endurance work, the more your strength capacity will degrade and vice versa. This point also marks the realm where one’s health may begin to decline while their specialized skill may improve. Going back to our football example, by season’s end, they’re better football players than when they started, but they’re usually beat-up & dealing with at least some low-level injuries.
CrossFit is another good example. Essentially, their philosophy is the expansion of all the general capacities at once. Yes, you can work very hard at multiple types of physical capacities at once, but you’re never going to be able to have 100% of everything.
Moreover, the CrossFit model uses specific expressions of these capacities to encourage general fitness. For example, they utilize the Olympic lifts to develop lifting capacity mixed with 800m sprints for running capacity, as well as box jumps, etc. This manner, while very difficult, is also very inefficient (it’s also dangerous when not utilized properly). Other popular examples of this method are P90X & Insanity as well as other forms of “metabolic conditioning” (met-con).
When one gets good at any of these programs, what they’re doing is becoming good at that program. Did you catch that? To put it another way, a proficient CrossFitter is reinforcing their ability to perform a CrossFit routine well, not necessarily their general capacities. It’s the same effect as a football player playing football (or any other athlete performing their chosen sport); they’re refining their ability to perform a specific task well (in this case CrossFit, P90X, etc.).
The difference is that other sports are developing the specific capacity of performing that sport, while CrossFit et al’s attempt is to develop all of the general capacities simultaneously. Indeed, CrossFit has now become its’ own sport (i.e. the CrossFit games).
These styles of training that make you huff, puff, sweat, burn, and groan like Rocky getting ready for his title fight are great for marketing, but not as great for the general populace who have lives outside of the gym. It’s not that they don’t work, it’s that they don’t work efficiently.
With the general populace in mind, the primary concern of the majority is to be healthy. Fitness is not necessarily an indicator of health, but it’s important to note that physical health will not be fully realized until one fulfills their general physical capacities (i.e. base fitness).
As such, it’s important that anyone who’s concerned with their well-being should pursue activities their body was built to perform; sedentary-ism is not healthy, no matter how well the rest of the picture is.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.