Just the (Nutrition) Facts, Ma’am

If you showed up today expecting recipe number two from Italian Week, I apologize.  It was supposed to be pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup), but I totally botched it!  Remember how I said I used to be known for one kitchen disaster with every meal?  Last night’s disaster was forgetting that pasta e fagioli is supposed to have tomato in it.  And forgetting that soup in general usually needs an acid in order to not suck!  It actually didn’t suck, but without the tomato to brighten it up, the pictures looked really drab.  So it’s not front-page blog material, at least not until I’m really hurting for content.

Ignore Nutrition Facts, Read the Ingredients List

[Food label photo]What I want to write about instead is nutrition facts.  And the lack thereof on my blog.  I read a Twitter post yesterday by someone complaining about health sites that don’t post nutrition facts.  It would be naive for me to believe that my blog prompted this complaint, but my first thought upon reading this was I need to start doing that in order to make sure every last reader is satisfied.

But something about that felt wrong.  I write this blog to share the way I eat and exercise, because eating delicious food and staying healthy is one aspect of life that I think I’m great at.  And I’m not too modest to say that.  I’m not a raw-food vegan, and I’m certainly not the fastest marathoner.  But I think my version of a healthy, active life filled with delicious food is one that regular folks can adopt as their lifestyle, not just a diet.

I almost never look at nutrition facts.  If we were meant to read nutrition facts, then whoever created this world would have put nutrition labels on food.  And in a way, he/she/it kind of did, only not in the form of a list of numbers.  If a food is ripe and good for us, then it usually looks fresh, vibrant, appealing, and real.  That’s the only nutrition fact you need.  Obviously there are exceptions, but you get the idea.  Eat real foods, eat colorful foods, eat local foods, eat a variety of foods, the way you are meant to and the way people did for thousands of years until this hip new thing called technology came along and screwed it up.

Eating isn’t supposed to require math.  If every time you eat, you have to add up a bunch of numbers and worry about how many of your allotted calories you’re using up, then you’re doing it all wrong.  You’re supposed to enjoy eating.  I’m not one of the “thoughts are things” New-Agers, but I do believe that if you feel guilty everytime you eat, then you’re sending the your body the wrong message.  Food tastes good to us because calories are fuel.  Fat tastes especially good because it’s nourishing and used to be scarce.  When you avoid fats and calories, you send your metabolic system the message that it’s a time of famine, and your body responds by storing away whatever it can find, usually in the form of that nice Goodyear inner-tube around your midsection.

Here’s how to decide what to eat.  Check the list of ingredients in a food.  Best case: one.  An apple contains… surprise, apple!  Certainly we have to combine lots of foods when we cook, but the difference between cooking and buying prepared foods is that we’re the ones doing the combining.  We don’t add preservatives for shelf life, and we don’t add cheap fake flavors to turn a bigger profit.  If you need to buy something prepared, just make sure it doesn’t have many ingredients, and make sure you can pronounce all of them.  As you can tell, this method requires a lot of very complex calculations, but we are very lucky to be living in an age of technology so we can carry them out to a high degree of accuracy.

So that’s why I don’t care about nutrition labels.  If you find yourself using a certain ingredient a lot, then sure, check the nutrition label to make sure there aren’t any shockers.  But most of the time, screw that.  The caveat is this: eating the way we are meant to requires living the way we are meant to.  Specifically, doing things.  We used to have to hunt for food or spend hours in the fields to grow food.  Everyone knows we aren’t designed to sit at a computer all day writing a blog article about nutrition facts that’s growing longer than we planned.  So you have to move around if you don’t want to get fat.  It’s very complicated, this nature thing, but you’ll get the hang of it.

I look forward to your comments about this philosophy.  I have a feeling this post might earn me my first haters!  All I can say is that I didn’t invent it.  Actually it’s old; in fact I think the 1.2 million year anniversary of its invention is coming up next month.

A final warning: If you’re already way overweight, then my advice might not be right for you yet.  You probably need a big calorie reduction and exercise, all done safely of course.  Once that’s taken care of, then you can start ignoring nutrition labels.  If you stay active.



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  1. Very well said! I only ever look at the ingredients on prepared food to make sure it doesn’t have any nasties in. No real point worrying your head about whether you’ve exceeded your recommended salt intake by 1% or if you might have eaten a few more or less than the allotted 2000 or 2500 calories. We’re all different after all 🙂

  2. I completely agree. I’ve tried the diet plans (mostly endurance training diets) where you have to hit a certain number of calories and a specific nutrient profile, and it’s just no fun. And that was because it was hard to eat ENOUGH. I can only imagine how miserable calorie restriction must be. Thanks for commenting and congratulations on your recent marathon!

  3. This is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time! I completely agree with you (and I’m still obese, by the way). I only ever look to see WHAT is in the item. I mean, have you seen the list of ingredients on a jar of mustard? It even contains HFCS!

    This whole worrying about grams of this and percentages of that is all just smoke and mirrors to me. Americans don’t measure things in grams, so they actually have no frame of reference when it comes to that. Furthermore, labels will relate fat as a percentage of volume or weight, instead of as a percentage of calories. Milk can have 2% of its volume from fat, but you still have 35% of calories from fat! They just added water to increase the volume! And nobody gets that!

    As for calories, I don’t even know what a calorie is! I eat real food, mostly plants and mostly raw. And my body is getting used to being nourished, so my portions are getting smaller all the time. Where dieters start of losing weight quickly and then slow down, I started very slowly, but the rate at which I lose is speeding up as my body is becoming more efficient from being so well-nourished.

    Great post! I’m glad to have stumbled upon you on twitter!

    Hanlie’s last blog post..Mushroom & Barley Soup

    • Thanks Hanlie! Seems like we agree in the way we think about food. I was just thinking today about how this type of diet is probably a hard thing to adopt for people looking to lose weight because the benefits might not be obvious at first, in the way they would on extreme, unsustainable diets. But there’s no way this type of eating could support a lot of extra fat long term, so I’d imagine your results will just keep coming! And the best thing is, it probably doesn’t feel like a “diet” to you anymore. This way of eating feels so normal to me already; it’s the old one that feels strange.

  4. Great post! I read nutrition lables on just about everything I eat, but mostly because I’m reading ingredients, not counting numbers 🙂 You’re totally right – if it looks good and fresh, it is going to be good for you!

    Alyss’s last blog post..Pokrov Farm Tour

  5. Here’s how I’ve heard it: “Don’t eat anything that has a label or a barcode.” I have a looooooong way to go!

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s last blog post..What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Seems to Care – Gary Taubes (Real Food Wednesday)

  6. Gotta admit it though — what a great world if we didn’t need labels & barcodes 🙂

    lo’s last blog post..Milwaukee Creole: Barbequed Shrimp

  7. Unfortunately I have to disagree with you =[ I’m sorry! It sounds like that system works great for you, so I’d never tell you to change it. But there are people out there – active, healthy people – who have to count calories to stay where they want to be. I’m a short, rather petite chick, and I can honestly say (through many, many trials and errors) that if I eat more than 1600-1700 calories a day for more than a couple days at a time, I gain weight. And yes, this is while running 25-30 mpw! In fact, I haven’t been careful enough these last few months and have slowly put on 4 pounds, which I hope marathon training will help whittle away in a couple months; luckily that’s what happened last year. But truly, I’m sad to say, with an RMR of only about 1300, calorie-counting is a must!

  8. Hello! I am a newbie to your blog and really love it! I do have to say that I’m with Amber here – I really need to count calories. While I’m fit, I have gained some weight in recent years, and I need to teach my body what 1600 calories feels like vs. 2000. I have recently transitioned to eating “whole” or “real” food, mostly unprocessed, and it’s amazing how much more filling this food is!! But it’s a learning process. Your view is definitely the ideal…I hope to be there someday!

    I really enjoy your entries!

    • Thanks Pam! I can understand that this doesn’t work for everyone. But I do think it’s a good approach, and if it leads to a few more pounds on a fit person, then maybe those pounds are healthy! But really, you know what works best for you. Great that you have gotten into real, whole foods. It’s not easy to do every meal of every day, but the more I do it, the better I feel.

      Thanks again for reading my blog!

  9. This idea is a breath of fresh air to me! I wholly agree, as someone who used to eat by numbers and try to hit 800 calories a day, mostly consisting of sugar snap peas, cheap packaged deli turkey, and microwave popcorn, filling in the cracks with Diet Dr. Pepper when I felt light headed. All the while trying to run, and overestimating every serving size. I’ve come a long way, but I have a long way to go! Love this post!

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