Understanding What's in Your Food


Article by Hayley Hyer

Photography by Stock Images

Mindful eating means knowing what is in your food, how it is affecting your body and taking the time to fully appreciate the nutrients and flavors you are taking in. Whether or not you are trying to lose, gain or maintain weight, reading labels and understanding nutrition facts will help you make better choices for your body and ultimately feel better in your day-to-day.

Pro Tip: Think outside the scale. Try taking note of how your food makes you feel after you eat it. It’s easier to make healthy choices when you can feel the difference!

Nutrition 101


Protein makes you feel full longer. If you eat a meal with little protein, you’ll feel hungry again pretty quickly, and it can be discouraging. But you don’t have to eat a huge steak to get enough protein. You can find it in cheese, nuts, seeds, spinach, eggs, avocados, broccoli, hummus, lentils—the list goes on and on! Mindful eating means taking note of how hungry you feel and eating enough protein to satisfy that hunger in a way that will last.


Carbohydrates are not your enemy. But, it is important to pay attention to how you feel when you eat them. If you eat a lot of carbs in one sitting, it can cause your blood sugar to spike, and when it drops back down, you can feel lethargic and maybe even irritable. By spreading your carbohydrate intake throughout your day and always pairing it with a protein, you can help your body regulate your blood sugar more effectively and feel more alert all day long.


Fats also help slow carbohydrates down so they don’t instantly turn into sugar in your bloodstream. Fats are important for energy, and it’s especially important to eat the right kinds of fats for your brain. For better concentration and memory, try to incorporate foods like salmon, avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil.

How to Read Labels

While nutritionists can recommend average nutrient intake percentages for a population, those might not be entirely accurate for your body and what you need. If you don’t enjoy calculating and counting every single gram you eat, you can just start with the recommended guidelines and make adjustments based on how you feel each day. If you are groggy and sluggish mid-day, look at how many carbohydrates you had in your lunch and see if you want to change anything about your lunch tomorrow. Here’s how to read nutrition labels so you can better keep track and know what you are eating.

Serving Sizes

Serving sizes can be confusing if you don’t know what an ounce of that food looks like. Instead, look at “Servings Per Container” and divide that container into however many portions it says. Now you know that the nutrition facts on the label will be accurate for every portion you have separated out.


The number of calories per serving doesn’t mean that’s how many calories you should eat at a time. It’s just telling you how many are in that particular food. If you are eating a package of nuts as a snack, and you are not eating anything else with it, you may need a couple of packages to eat as many calories as you want for that snack. It’s not wrong to eat multiple servings! Focus on what your body needs.


Carbohydrates are broken down by dietary fiber and sugar. To feel fuller longer and to have a clear mind and avoid getting foggy, choose carbohydrates, such as wild rice, that have more dietary fiber and less sugar.


You need a variety of vitamins in your day, so check the percentages and make sure you are getting lots of different nutrients. Vitamin C is great, but it is possible to have too much Vitamin C and neglect Vitamin A. Calcium and iron are important for strength and to avoid injuries, so make sure you get enough of those each day as well. An easy trick is to try eating a vegetable of every color each day.

Pro Tip: You can search for a nutrient calculator online to find out how much protein, carbohydrates and fats you should be eating in a day for your specific needs.

Knowing What's Right for You

You are the best expert of you, and you get to make all of the final decisions for your body. Do your research, get all of the info that you can and then decide how you want to divide up your nutrition each day.

One of the most effective things you can do is keep a log of your moods, how your skin looks, how your hair feels, your water intake and your energy levels. While your fitness goals are important, how you feel each day is so much more important. It’s easy to lose weight by dramatically cutting calories, but that can leave you feeling irritable with low energy, and it’s ultimately not worth it. Take care of yourself and think about how the choices you make will affect your health in the long run. And never forget that you are enough, just the way you are.

Pro Tip: Sit down to eat as often as you can. Allow yourself the full meal experience to taste all of your food. You will feel more satisfied, and your body will digest your food easier so you don’t have an upset stomach later.

Follow Hayley Hyer @hayhyer

Understanding What's in Your Food was originally published in HAYHYER

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