7 Tips to Decipher Food Labels

As you wander through the grocery store, you’re faced with seemingly endless possibilities of food choices.  Figuring out which of these foods are actually healthy can be a nightmare!  Sure, we all know there are entire aisles dedicated to junk food and soft drinks (and hopefully most of us avoid these aisles).

But, what do you do when you come across so-called ‘healthy’ or ‘good for you’ foods in the other aisles?  You’ve probably seen a number of food packages that state the product is ‘fat free’, ‘trans-fat free’, ‘low sodium’, ‘fortified’, ‘contains omega-3’, ‘high in fibre’, or ‘sugar free’.  These buzzwords are everywhere!  The problem, though, is that these buzzwords are not actually certifying a product as healthy; instead, the producer has removed (or reduced) one or two hyped-up ingredients to make the claim, only to add more crap to maintain taste, texture or shelf-life.

And, here’s a little secret for you:  Food companies that use these buzzwords don’t actually care about your health; all they care about is manipulating you into thinking you’re choosing a better product so that they can make more money!

The bottom line is, if it has a label, the food probably isn’t the healthiest option out there. But, on occasion we do need to buy packaged foods so food labels become our friend.  Food labels are mandated by government bodies to let consumers know what they’re buying and eating.  However, the information on the food labels can still be confusing.

How often do you look at food labels when you shop?  Do you usually read the entire label or go straight for calories, fat and/or carbohydrate content?  If you answered yes, don’t worry – most people only look at these 3 categories too.

Don’t get me wrong – I think food labels can be daunting too!  But, if you’re really concerned with eating healthy and buying ‘good-for-you’ products, you need to arm yourself with the knowledge needed to truly decipher these food labels!

 

7 Things To Look For When Reading Food Labels:

There is quite a bit of information on your typical food label.  These labels show us calories per serving, the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates in the food, ingredients, and daily values of some key nutrients.  But what should you really be focused on when reading food labels?

  1. Look at the ingredients list first. This is the most important part of the food label. The ingredients tell you quickly if there is added sugar, hydrogenated (or trans) fat, preservatives, dyes and other chemicals that can be toxic to the body.  Ideally, a food should contain between 1 and 6 recognizable ingredients – that’s it!
  2. Let’s set the record straight – your body needs carbohydrates! Instead of tossing aside a food containing carbs, look at the type of carbohydrates in the product.  Whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, or sprouted grains, are actually very good for you!  Refined, enriched, processed white flour and sugar are not.
  3. Be wary of buzzwords – junk foods like chips or cookies labeled ‘organic’, ‘trans-fat free’, or ‘all natural’ are still junk foods.
  4. Understand a food’s serving size. Many food serving sizes are much smaller than what we typically eat so make sure you have a realistic idea of just how much you’re consuming.
  5. Artificial sweeteners are just as bad for you as refined sugar. Foods sweetened with real fruit or fruit juice are fine – if it’s truly sugar free, you won’t see any sugar in the ingredients list.
  6. Sometimes sugar is unavoidable so choose products with less than 5 g of sugar per serving.
  7. Don’t avoid fat. Your body needs some fat to be healthy.  Saturated fats in grass-fed butter and coconut oil are healthy – these fats are anti-inflammatory and important for hormonal health.

Obviously, the healthiest foods are those without labels – these are known as ‘whole foods’.  Choose whole foods over processed foods as often as possible and you won’t need to worry about added sugar, salt, trans fat or other nasty stuff.

 

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