Decoding Nutrition Labels

Are you following my Nutrition: Back to Basics but don’t know how to tell what is in your favourite snacks? Don’t worry, I was the same. I always found myself looking at the back of packets in the supermarket and nodding as though I knew what was going on, but really I didn’t have a clue what to be looking for. For anyone who can relate, this article is for you. Hopefully, I will be able to clear some things up and give you a basic understanding of what to look for.

I would recommend reading my article Nutrition: Back to Basics before reading this post. I will be referring to it a lot and will give you a good basis of what to do with the information in this post.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 16.10.471) Size of the serving 

2) How many servings per container 

Many people believe that the nutritional information on the back of the packet represents the whole packet. In some cases it does, but not always. It is a crucial mistake to make. You could eat a full packet of crisps and think it was only 200 calories but really it was 200 calories for 7 crisps. Same goes for the nutrients listed. The information is all per serving. So be careful.

3) Calories: Can be related to ‘energy’ in my Nutrition: Back to Basics article. Remember, its calories per serving. Not always for the full packet!

4) Fat: In my basic nutrition article I talk about Precision Nutrition’s hand sized guide. They outline how per meal you should aim to have the ‘top of your thumb’ of fat.

5) Sodium: Try to keep to highly salted foods to a minimum. High sodium meals can in some cases cause the body to retain fluid in the form of a ‘bloat’.

According to the NHS:

  • A high amount of salt is 1.5g per 100g
  • A low amount of salt is 0.3g per 100g

6) Carbohydrates: In my basic nutrition article I talk about Precision Nutrition’s hand sized guide. They outline how per meal you should aim to have the size of a cupped hand of carbohydrates.

Sugars: A classified carbohydrate,  which can be found in foods in its natural form and in the form of artificial sweeteners.

According to Diabetes Ireland:

  • More than 15g per 100g is considered high
  • Less than 5g per 100g is considered low

7) Protein: In my basic nutrition article I talk about Precision Nutrition’s hand sized guide. They outline how you should aim to have the ‘size of your palm’ of protein per meal.

8) Bottom section and Percentages: I ignore these sections as like I mentioned in my other article everyone has different energy and macronutrient needs based on height, age, weight, and activity level. While the recommended daily intake can be somewhat useful I believe that when it comes to nutrition there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’. Everyone will have different needs. The guidelines given at the bottom of the nutrition label are the recommended daily amounts for all men and all women and the percentages are the percentages of each nutrient per single serving in terms of the daily recommended amount. I wouldn’t treat them as gospel but it is something to consider.

There are a lot of other things that can be considered when examining nutrition labels, but I am hoping that this article along with Nutrition: Back to Basics will be able to give you the basics on how to decode the label and what to do with the information you have decoded.

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The Girl on the Go xx

 

Nutrition: Back to Basics

A lot of people starting off dieting or changing their lifestyle are looking for a quick fix, and I was too. Google searching ‘7 Belly burning foods’ will do nothing to help your health and body recomposition efforts, in fact it will probably do the exact opposite. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there are no quick fixes or magic weight loss foods. Losing weight and changing your body composition takes time, dedication and  a willingness to learn. In my opinion, one of the main factors driving the obesity epidemic is lack of education and the public being given misleading information from companies trying to sell you a product. In this post I want to lay out a few basic nutrition principles that I have come to learn over the years which I wish I knew when starting off my health and fitness journey that hopefully will be able to help you too.

  1. Energy in vs. Energy out

A very simple concept that a lot of people tend to over look is energy in vs. energy out. In simple terms think of food as energy. On days that you are doing a lot off activity your body will use more energy than on the days that you are doing less activity. To maintain body weight you must be expending the same amount of energy as you are consuming, to lose weight you must be expending more energy then you are consuming, and yes, you’ve guessed it, to put on weight you must be consuming more than you are expending.

It might seem obvious but being aware of this simple concept and trying to consider it on a day to day basis should make you a lot more mindful about how much you are, and need to consume.

Let’s look at a real example that might make this more clear. If you know you are going out for pizza and drinks tonight while trying to lose a bit of weight (need to expend more than consume), what do you have to do to achieve or come close to achieving your negative energy balance?

You have two options;

  • Get some extra exercise in to expend the energy you will be consuming later on in the day
  • or you can make better food choices, reducing the amount of energy you would usually take in earlier on in that day to account for the pizza and drinks (yes, alcohol contains energy/calories.

I personally like to do a bit of both. I will make sure that I get a good workout in that day, as well as making better food choices. For example, I try to eat more protein as it is keeps you fuller for longer. I will touch on protein a bit more in the next point.

2. Macro nutrients

There are three main nutrients. These are carbohydrates, fats and protein and they are known as macronutrients. Every food has a different macronutrient composition. Here are some examples to show you (these values may vary slightly due to a lot of factors):

Chicken Breast

Protein: 23g

Carbohydrates: 0g

Fat: 1.2g

Apple

Protein: 0.3g

Carbohydrates: 14.6g

Fat: 0.2g

Slice of bread

Protein: 2.7g

Carbohydrates: 10.6g

Fat: 0.4g

Tablespoon peanut butter 

Protein: 8g

Carbohydrates: 7g

Fat:  15g

1 slice of Large Pepperoni Dominoes Pizza

Protein: 12g

Carbohydrates: 34g

Fat: 12.5g

Everyone has different macro nutrient requirements based on their weight, height, age, body composition, goals and activity. Being aware of macronutrients and what the foods you are consuming are made of up of will help you to make better decisions when trying to eat ‘healthier’. I try to make sure that most of my meals include all of the macro nutrient food groups. I will talk about portion sizes and rough proportions in point number 4.

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Homemade protein shake

3. Micronutrients 

While most of the health and fitness industry are obsessed with macronutrients, micronutrients shouldn’t be overlooked. A lot of people forget that if they aren’t supplying their body with the correct micronutrients, all of the macronutrients you are working so hard to have on point won’t be able to be utilised effectively.

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Micronutrients are the nutrients that will help to keep your insides healthy, happy and your systems working at full capacity. Where do you get micronutrients from? Fruit and vegetables. Only recently have I realised the true importance of getting my micronutrients in. I am always sick and hate knowing that every few weeks I will have to drop everything and stay in bed. I have been making a very conscious effort to try and eat one big portion of veggies in with every meal, and honestly I think it has helped my immune system. I haven’t been getting sick as often and when I do, it doesn’t feel half as bad as before.

Portions

Now that you have an idea about energy balance, macronutrients and micronutrients, let’s talk about portions. Like I previously mentioned, everyone will have different needs based on age, height, weight and nutrition goal. One thing you can consider that will give you a rough estimate of how much you should be eating of each food group is splitting up your plate, seen in the below illustration. Disclaimer: this is just a rough idea and is what I personally try to follow.

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Protein = Chicken. Carbs = Sweet Potatoes. Veggies = Peppers & Broccoli. Fat = Coconut Oil which the sweet potatoes were cooked in

 

Another good thing to consider is Precision Nutrition’s hand guides:

Your palm determines your protein portions

Your fist determines your veggie portions

Your (single) cupped hand determines your carb portions

Your thumb determines your fat portions

So a good example of a meal based on these principles would be:

Omelette

  • Veggies: Big portion of a range of veg
  • Protein: Egg whites
  • Carbs: Slice of toast
  • Fats: Butter on toast
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Well balanced meal for any time of the day

I don’t believe in cutting out full nutrient groups, eliminating or reducing carbs seems to be a popular trend among ‘dieters’. As you probably know if you are reading this, diets don’t last. This information is here to give you some tools that will hopefully help to change your habits and overall lifestyle. If you are looking for a 1 week diet to lose weight before your holiday that you are guaranteed to put straight back on you won’t get that information here. Sorry. I am interested in helping the people that want to change their life and who are willing to trust the process. I am no expert but if anyone has any questions feel free to get in contact and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.

I hope you were able to take away at least one helpful point from this post. Thanks for reading and see you in the next one.

The Girl on the Go xx

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Make Getting Fit Easier

Are you deciding to take the plunge to start getting healthy and into shape? It can be intimidating as a newbie entering the gym. Unfortunately, intimidation and the fear of being judged are some of the main reasons why people take so long to get their asses into a gym. If you have decided to change your life or maybe you still need a little push hopefully these tips can help give you some guidance:

1) Don’t be intimidated – Easier said than done, but everyone (even the girl with the bubble bum and abs) started somewhere. Don’t be ashamed. One day the new girl/guy will be looking at you wishing they knew what you knew and were in as good shape as you. So keep going, each time you go you will get more confident and closer to your goal. 

2) Have a plan – Don’t just arrive at the gym and hope that you will magically know what to do and how to do it. Hiring a coach is a good idea. They can give you the confidence and help guide you while you try and achieve your goals. Whether you have a trainer or not, have a plan before you arrive at the gym. Youtube videos are great for mastering your technique. To this day after 2.5 years of serious lifting I still check out some videos before I go to workout to make sure that my form is in check.

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3) Don’t expect results overnight – I am the biggest culprit for lifting up my top looking for my non existent 6 pack after eating a salad. It takes time, so don’t be discouraged if you aren’t seeing the results right away. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. This holds true for every successful athlete, bodybuilder and fitness model out there.

4) Find a gym buddy – Find someone who is looking to achieve a similar goal as you and kick ass together. You will be less intimidated in the gym at the start if you have a friend. Not to mention, you guys can push each other to go the the gym even when you don’t feel like it, or to eat that salad instead of that pizza. This will also hold you accountable.

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5) Girls, don’t be afraid of getting bulky –  It isn’t as easy as you think to get ‘bulky’.  As females, we don’t have the same hormone or body structure as men, this makes it extremely difficult to get ‘bulky’. So stop worrying about getting ‘big’ and embrace lifting weights and try to maintain a balanced diet. This way you will optimise your chances of achieving your goal. You will thank me later when your results are a lot better than your friend on the treadmill.

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These are only some of the tips that I think are important for beginners who are starting to go to the gym or who are starting to take exercise more seriously. They are centred around the gym, but maybe the gym isn’t for you. Maybe you want to start pilates, boxing or jogging. No matter what you are doing, taking the first step is always the hardest so hopefully these tips can help you no matter what type of physical activity you want to try.

The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy your journey to becoming a healthier and fitter version of yourself.

The Girl on the Go xx

 

How to Stay Healthy Whilst Traveling

I noticed this summer while backpacking around Europe that convenience stores (which are in every train station and airport) aren’t very ‘convenient’ for people who are trying to eat healthy. They are mainly filled with overly processed food, drink,  and very few fresh products.

I have come up with a few tips that might help you guys maintain a balanced diet on your next trip, or if you are just looking to start your journey you may also be interested in 6 Healthy Habits to aid Weight Loss.

1. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – As cringy as this sounds, this is by far the most important thing no matter if you are traveling or just going to college or work. If you want to achieve your health goals you need to be prepared. Always carry a lunch box around or just some snacks that are healthy so you won’t be forced to try to find something in a ‘convenience’ store. Get your trip off to a good start by bringing some healthy snacks to munch on while waiting for your flight. Airports always have the worst selection of healthy food.

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Bring some healthy snacks. If you haven’t already tried Fulfil bars the white chocolate is the best!

2. Stay Hydrated – I know when I am traveling I always forget to drink water. Drinking enough water is a huge part of trying to stay healthy and it is usually forgotten when it isn’t readily available. Most places have water fountains, so if you want to save a bit of money and help the environment carry a reusable bottle around with you.

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I always try to bring my cute Victoria Secret glass water bottle with me when I leave the house

3. Try to avoid fast food joints – I know grabbing a burger or some fries can seem like the easiest and cheapest option sometimes, especially for students who are on a budget, but what I learnt from my trip this summer was that supermarkets become your best friend. I used to go and buy fruit and veg in big packets which I would carry around with me. Some super markets even have small salad and sandwich bars. This option is especially nice in a hot country. You can go and buy your food and go and sit on a beach or in a park and eat your food.

4. 5-a-day – Although this is far from essential, you should make sure you are getting 5 portions of fruit and vegetables in every day.  This will help you make smarter choices when choosing what to eat both out in restaurants or in the supermarket.

5. Walk – Ditch the Ubers, trains and buses. If possible try to walk to the places you want to go. Most of the time going away on holidays means that you will be missing out on your gym sessions. So make sure that you are trying to at least hit 10,000 steps every day.

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Walking around NYC

6. Don’t skip meals – If you have no choice but to eat in the fast food restaurant, do it! While a lot of people might avoid McDonald’s at all costs as they don’t want to be ‘bloated’ in their bikini the following day. The reality is you are on your holidays, and I know that when I get hungry I am really really grumpy! There is no point risking ruining your holiday to try and maintain the same level of leanness you arrived with.

I hope these tips have been of some use to you coming up to summer. Enjoy your holiday and hopefully see you back here soon!

The Girl on Go xx

10 Step Guide to #FitSpo Dining

Just because you are trying to eat healthier or trying to lose a few pounds doesn’t mean that you should have to pass up the opportunity to eat out, you just need to try to make smart choices.

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Salad as featured in my Toronto – JOEY restaurant review

Here are 10 tips to help you make smarter menu choices next time you are eating out without having to compromise on taste.

1) Look up the menu online before going, this allows me to plan ahead and hopefully means that I won’t give into my hungry tummy on the spot. If you track your macros this step is extremely important. It allows  you to plan the rest of your meals for the day, ensuring you hit all of your nutrient goals.

2) Drink water, Diet sodas can be useful,  especially if you have a sweet tooth like me. Try to avoid alcohol. At a hefty 7 kcal per gram, it can quickly put you in a caloric surplus for that day.

3) Avoid the bread basket, once you start you will never stop. It can also lead to you racking a huge amount of unnecessary calories before you even start the meal.

4) Salads are a great option, but for me, I don’t always choose salads if I am out for dinner as I find salads don’t always fill me up very much as I am used to at home having a big dinner and a smaller lunch. So, I tend to snack when I get home as a result. Everyone is different, you just need to find out what works best for you.

Tip 1: Sometimes I ask for salads with extra meat so they are a bit more filling, also helpful for  hitting your protein goal.

Tip 2: Just beware of the dressing, most salad dressings are more calorific and higher in fat than people think. I usually use balsamic vinegar or vinaigrette at home and that usually is not too high in both calories and fat.

5) Choose a high protein dish, Not only is protein extremely important for maintaining/gaining muscle mass, it is the nutrient that a lot of people struggle to hit their goal for on a day to day basis. Where possible I usually try to get a dish that one of the main ingredients is a meat. Most of the time the meat (protein & fat) comes with a carbohydrate (e.g. Potato – ideally not chips) and some veg. As you can see that meal will give you a good balance between the three macro nutrients. As opposed to a pizza that will only really give you Carbohydrates and fat.

6) Modify your dish – Don’t be afraid to ask for your meal with or without certain ingredients.

E.g. 1) Removing the cheese in a sandwich to cut back on fat.

E.g. 2) Ask for plain chicken rather than breaded chicken.

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Scrambled Eggs on toast, minus the bacon

7) Choose a smart side: Use your side dish to ensure you get your 5-a-day in. Almost always, a salad is the best option, Steamed veg is great too.  Again, just be careful with the calorific dressings.

Tip: The more naturally colourful your plate is the better.

8) Sauce on the side – Sauces are usually quite high in calories due to their high fat content. I usually ask for them on the side so I can control how much I have.

9) Don’t have all three courses, if everyone is having three, compromise and only get two.

10) Get tea or coffee instead of dessert, this will distract you while everyone is digging into their desserts.

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Avoca Monkstown Ireland’s Chicken Caesar salad – dressing on the side

Although these tips will hopefully help you stay on the straight and narrow whilst eating out, if you are serious about achieving your fitness and weight loss goals you should really keep eating out to a minimum. Having said that, having a social life is so important and it is all about trying to find a balance. If you enjoyed this post you may also be interested in 6 Healthy Habits to aid Weight Loss5 Ways to Make Getting Fit Easier and How to Stay Healthy Whilst Traveling.

I hope these tips have been able to help you guys, see you in the next post 

The Girl on the Go xx