Individuals who are new to the world of nutrition often need help with the basics. Just what are grams, and why do nutrition labels and reports use grams? Learn more about grams and healthy eating!
First, let's start very simple. A gram is a measure of weight. You probably get all sorts of things given to you in grams. For example, gold is usually sold by the gram. Beads are often sold by the gram. Most of the world uses grams as their measurement standard; the US is one of the only countries where some people still think about some weights in terms of "ounces". One gram is only 0.04 ounces, so you can see why grams are so much better for careful measurement! A gram is FAR more precise.
So, in terms of eating healthily, all nutrition labels give their values in grams, and people using countertop food scales set those to measure in grams. That gives you the most detailed weight of the items you are weighing and eating.
To the left is a sample nutrition label, for a box of sugar-free candies. If you've never read a nutrition label before, I have complete Instructions on Reading a Nutrition Label. What they are saying here is that if you ingest 16 grams of candies, that you will be ingesting 14g of sugar alcohols. Everything is indicated by the gram of weight.
This is exactly how the Low Carb system works. They have you counting the grams of carbs you ingest every day, and keeping track of that. So you need to know how many grams of carbs are in each item you eat, and add them up as you go.
Why are Carbs Listed by the Gram?
Again, a gram is a small measurement of weight. This is BY FAR the easiest way for nutritionists to help you know what you are ingesting. If they tried to do it "by the ounce" for example it would be a nightmare. Who would be adding up 0.04oz of carbs in their tomato plus 0.001oz of carbs in their celery? Grams are far easier to work with. That is why the entire world - including the US - uses grams for all their nutrition information.
Why Provide Values by Weight and not by Serving?
Nutrition information is provided to help you make healthy choices about the food you are making. There are few healthy diets out there - regardless of their basis - that want you to eat PROCESSED food. Processed foods might have easy to read nutrition labels, since they have already determined the recipe for you, added up all the ingredients, and dumped out the results. But the end results are usually full of sodium, preservatives, and other unwanted items. The goal of pretty much every healthy eating system is for you to make fresh food at home, using quality ingredients. It's cheaper too!
So that being said, a nutritionist would have NO idea what specific recipe you are cooking, to be able to say "the amount of zucchini in your final serving is going to be X". Maybe your zucchini recipe today calls for 24g of zucchini plus 24g of tomatoes and is a "veggie medley". Maybe the recipe for tomorrow calls for 42g of zucchini and is a "zucchini with garlic"! Every recipe is going to be different. Every recipe uses different proportions of ingredients. There is no way any nutritionist would know how much zucchini you were using in your serving of food, to be able to say "the total carb grams in your final serving is going to be X." It all depends on how MUCH zucchini you are using. That quantity is typically measured by weight.
That is why carb counts provide values based on grams of each ingredient. That way you can calculate exactly what you are ingesting. If you make a mix of 100g tomato, 100g zucchini, 100g onion and saute it with garlic, you simply plug in the values of the carbs in each amount.
To go along with this concept, it's also important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as a "standard serving" that every single human being eats. If you have a tuna steak with lunch, you might have a 113g steak. If you have a tuna steak with dinner, you might eat a 226g steak. A child might have a "standard serving" of 60g of steak! All of these are the individuals' normal, healthy serving. That is why everything in the nutrition world is done by weight. It lets you know exactly what you are eating, exactly what its nutritional values are, and accurately measure out what you are ingesting.
In the world of low carb, we do not count a mythical "serving size" (which as mentioned does not exist across all ages and genders). You eat slowly, with awareness, until you are full, and then you stop. You do not stuff yourself, but you do not go hungry either. You listen to your body's message. So "serving size" is not a consideration at all. It is about eating healthy food, eating until you are full, and counting the carbs you ingest.
As always, post in the forums if you have any questions about these nutrition basics! These basics apply to ALL eating - not just low carb. Understanding grams and what they are about is critical to every person who wants to be able to read a nutritional label and know what it means.
NOTE: Thanks to Peter for his research - it turns out that besides the US, the only two countries in the WORLD that do not use the metric system are Burma and Liberia!!
Lisa Shea's Library of Low Carb Books