Food Labels: Counting calories and hidden fat
A reasonably active individual will need to consume around 2,000 calories a day. But whether you are looking at your own fitness or you are a personal trainer advising a client, it’s important to understand where these calories come from in order to ensure a healthy, balanced diet.
Most foodstuffs now have a detailed breakdown on the label, and figures are listed online, but there are two key points that will help you make the best use of this information:
- For a balanced diet, your daily intake of calories should be made up of approximately 10% protein, 30% fat and 60% carbohydrates;
- A gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrate each contain 4 calories, but a gram of fat contains 9 calories.
If an individual has a target calorie intake of 2,000kcal per day, they could eat four meals of 500 calories a day. This should therefore be made up of around:
- Protein – 500kcal / 100 X 10 = 50kcal of protein per meal / 4 kcal per gram = 12.5g of protein per meal. (10%)
- Fat – 500kcal / 100 X 30 = 150kcal of fat per meal / 9kcal per gram = 17g of fat (30%)
- Carbohydrates – 500kcal / 100 X 60 = 300kcal per meal / 4 kcal per gram = 75g of carbohydrate per meal(60%)
Therefore the ideal meal in this scenario would consist of 12.5g of protein, 17g of fat and 75g of carbohydrates to be eaten four times a day at regular intervals.
When looking at food packaging, it’s important to work out the percentage fat, carbohydrates and protein in a product as a percentage of calories rather than weight.
Take a standard 25g bag of ready salted crisps at 134 calories with 8.5g fat.
Weight: 8.5g of 25g = 34%
Calories: 1g fat = 9 calories, so 8.5g x 9 = 76.5 calories = 57%
So the percentage fat consumed is higher than you might think looking at the percentage in weight. It’s therefore not enough to count calories, you need to understand where these calories are coming from.
A snack or a meal with 57% fat rather than the recommended 30% will need to be followed out by other snacks or meals with a much lower fat content than 30% to balance it out.
Personal trainers should advise their clients that the more fat in their diet, the less food they will get for their 2,000 calories a day, so the more likely they are to still feel hungry. A balanced diet with plenty of wholemeal foods, protein and fibre will help them get that “full feeling” and make them less likely to reach for the chocolate.
It’s also a good idea to look at healthy alternatives to your regular food: for example, sweet potatoes are a better option than white potatoes as they release energy more slowly so you’ll feel full for longer
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