How were you taught to read a label?
One Google search of “how to read a label” will bring up a photo showing you how many carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and other nutrients are in a serving. It may show you how to decided how many servings are in one container. It will show you the recommended daily value percentage for most things, too.
While this is great, it doesn’t actually answer the question “how to be healthier” or “how to lose weight”. I want you to think about the one thing that you look at a nutrition label for FIRST when you are trying to lose weigh. Most people would say they look at fat content or carbohydrate content. This comes from years and years of being trained that “fat is bad”, “carbs are bad”, and the best way to be healthy is to have the lowest amount possible in the foods we are eating.
Don’t believe this to be true? Maybe you don’t think this way, but I assure you many… MANY people do. The grocery store shelves are proof of this. Look around, we still see products marketed as “low fat” and “fat free”. People MUST be buying these products, because the grocery store doesn’t keep products on the shelves that don’t sell.
What about fats and carbs?
The problem isn’t with the JUST fats and the carbs in the foods, it’s with the ingredients. Ingredients like added sugars, hormone disrupting and cancer causing chemicals, just to name a couple. Yes, the ingredients is what we should have be taught to read FIRST, not the fat content or the carb content. While those things tell us about a food, it only gives us a small image of the bigger picture.
The ingredients portion of a label will tell you so much MORE about a packaged food before the fat and carb content will. I also believe that the sugar portion of a label will tell you more about a food, also. The kicker is there is no daily recommended amount for sugar and it’s really up for debate what amount of sugar is “good” or “bad”. The form of sugar, which is on the ingredients list, will tell us more about what’s inside. The nutrition label doesn’t take in to account artificial sweeteners, shown to actually cause more of an addiction and increase in type 2 diabetes than the real deal.
The nutrition label panel also doesn’t take in to account manmade chemicals, additives, and food dye. Many of those chemicals have been linked or proven to cause an array of problems like cancer, diabetes, headaches, and behavior disorders.
One thought to ponder, we know now more than ever about healthy food. As a culture, we are struggling with obesity, a rise in chronic illness, cancer, type 2 diabetes, infertility, but we know more as a culture “what is bad” and “what is good”… or do we? It seems to be an uphill battle trusting that the FDA and food companies SHOULD want to have everyone’s best interest in mind. The truth is, they don’t and most food companies are only interested in their bottom line. Cheap ingredients keep costs down and addictive ingredients like sugars, salts, or appealing ingredients like added coloring keep us coming back for more. The best way to empower yourself for your own health is to learn how to read a label properly.
Tips for Reading a Label Properly
1. First, look at the ingredients
Always look at the list of ingredients FIRST before taking a look at the nutrition panel. The ingredients list will tell you a lot about a product. Ingredients are listed in the order in which there is the most of. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, you know then that that food has a lot of sugar.
A good rule of thumb, look for 5 or less ingredients in a packaged food.
Look for manmade chemicals and additives
That old saying, “if you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it” applies here. There are 3,000 food additives on the market. Some of the chemicals added to our foods have been linked to cancer, ADHD, kidney disease, and bad cholesterol, just to name a few.
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) “for freshness” have been linked cancer, but are found in crackers, beer, and granola bars like Quaker Chewy Granola.
Synthetic Food Coloring
Synthetic food colorings like Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, both found in breakfast cereals, have been linked to learning disorders in children and kidney cancer. Norway and Sweden have already banned the use of these artificial colors. Red 40 has also been linked to ADHD and caramel color has been proven to cause cancer in lab animals. These things are all found in some of the most popular foods on the grocery store shelf, like instant oatmeal.
Cereal and oatmeal are standards in most american households. They are given to children to start their day, but they are full of chemicals and processed sugars.
Ingredients like maltodextrin in products spikes blood sugar, is made from GMO corn, and suppresses the growth of friendly gut bacteria. My post about probiotics shares the importance of these bacteria for our immune health and preventing acne, allergies, and other infections.
It can be found in our foods, infant formula, and even medicines. Beware, these artificial chemicals colors are also hidden in medicines and vitamins on the shelves.
Aspartame has been linked to headaches, dizziness,and memory loss, but is found in “sugar free” or diet drinks. Try infusing filtered water with fresh fruits, mint, or cucumbers.
Of 3,000 different chemicals added to our food, these are just a few. I suggest reading the ingredients first, before anything else. Determine what’s in the product before you take a look at the nutrition panel. Most manmade chemicals do not have any nutrition, however as you can see they pose a health risk. These additives also make food more addictive, have zero to no nutritional value like vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
If you MUST have a processed food, read the ingredients carefully and Google them if you have to to determine if the risk is worth the convenience of a packaged food.
2. Beware of front of package marketing tactics
You have seen it before, all natural, sugar free, buzz words like gluten free, organic, Paleo, and more recently Keto. Do not be fooled, the food industry is in the business of making money. Special marketing tactics are used to make consumers think the food on the shelf is healthy or good for them. In a lot of cases, these chemicals or hidden sugars are lurking inside the box.
Because something is gluten free, all-natural, non-GMO, or organic does NOT make it a healthy food.
Most food companies hire an individual or several individuals that are solely focused on finding a food’s “bliss point”. The translation of a bliss point is highly addictive. With the right combination, a company can determine which combination of ingredients (sugar, salt, and fat) make the bliss point to create a chemical addiction in consumers. High sugar, high fat, high sodium foods become addictive and as a result we buy more. Money, duh!
Do not fall for marketing tactics and ALWAYS read the labels of food on the shelf. All foods, including sauces, salad dressings, frozen vegetables, and soups, read the labels.
3. Sugar and it’s many forms
Added sugar is hiding in 74% of our foods. Sugar increases our waist line, causes diabetes, aging, cancer, and is as addictive as cocaine. Unlike salt and fat, there is no recommended amount for sugar. “However, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women.5 The AHA limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons (12 – 25 grams) per day.”
A very important note, processed sugar (sugar in it’s pure form) and sugar from fruits and vegetables is different. Fruits and vegetables have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients. Processed sugar, usually found in processed foods, has no nutritional value.
One cup of Fruit Loops has 10 grams of sugar and one packet of Strawberries n Cream instant oatmeal has 12 grams. When you add in a whole banana (14-18 grams of sugar) with breakfast, and 1 cup of 2% milk (12 grams), you have a total of about 36 grams of sugar.
Even cereals marketed as “healthy” like Kashi Go Lean has 9 grams of sugar per cup.
Before the day begins, we have already hit the allotment for women and children, and we’re 2 grams away for men.
- anhydrous dextrose
- brown sugar
- confectioner’s powdered sugar
- corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
- pancake syrup
- raw sugar
- white granulated sugar
Let’s Find a Solution
I know this process can be overwhelming, especially if you are just learning about processed foods, additives, and food dyes. I want you to know even though it feels overwhelming, it is possible to make a lasting change and impact in your home.
If adding more whole foods to your home and removing processed foods is your goal, it can be done. I will help you! Let’s come up with a few solutions for starting this process.
Ps… It takes time, but little changes add up daily, weekly, and yearly! You just have to start. Okay, let’s do this!
1. Skip processed foods all together
Think about your day to day eating habits. What do you eat for breakfast? Packaged cereal, packaged oatmeal, toast? Do you have creamer in your coffee or juice with your breakfast? How about snacks, what do you eat for a snack? What do you eat for lunch?
Packaged foods have become a convenience for the standard American household. In our fast paced world, it is much easier to grab a pre-made product off of the shelf in a hurry. I do it and you probably do too. Over 70% of the standard American diet is processed foods. Look in your grocery store, what takes up the most floor space? Processed foods.
Learn to make your favorite foods on your own. Shop the produce aisle first before venturing down the other aisles. Make a meal plan at home that includes extra servings to take for leftovers to work the next day.
I wrote this post here where I share how we meal prep in our home. I gave up meal subscription services for a free meal planning app that I use weekly. There is also a YouTube video linked below.
The more you learn about cooking at home, planning meals, and using fresh ingredients the better. Shop your local Farmer’s Market for fresh, local produce and meats.
2. Shop Your Local Farmer’s Market
Shopping your local Farmer’s Market not only supports your local economy and local farmers, but it will keep you from being tempted in the grocery store. You can pick fresh produce from local farmers, check out handmade products like local honey or local coffee from artisan, small businesses.
3. Try a processed foods detox for 40 days
Challenge yourself to eat only whole food sources for 40 days. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, organic meats are your staples. Use ingredients like fresh citrus juices as a marinade and use apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and herbs as salad dressing. Fresh garden herbs like basil and rosemary add flavor to any meal.
If this sounds overwhelming to you, consider joining one of my 40 Day Transformation Groups. I help women, like you, work through eliminating processed foods and increase whole foods in your day to day. The first portion is a 10 day plant based cleanse followed by 30 days of intuitive eating and flooding the body with superfoods.
Cutting processed foods is a healing process and I love to help women through the process. Schedule a time here for us to talk more about working together.
My Final Thoughts on Food
Food is an essential part of life and can either heal you or hurt you. Being aware of what we put in to our bodies each and every day is the most empowering thing we can do as a human. Choosing foods that are nourishing to our bodies and good for our health last much longer than keeping our belly full. The choices we make for food can leave a last impact on our organ system, our health, and our families.
I am so passionate about food and our food choices when it comes to our family. I believe nutrition is the BEST investment for health insurance. Food has the ability to heal or destroy. Over consumption of food, especially bad foods can impact our health for years to come.
I heard in a recent podcast with Dr. Mark Hymand, “you might pay an extra quarter for the supersize french fries, but it will cost you $8 over your lifetime in terms of chronic illness, medical bills, and prescriptions.”
Cheers to creating lifelong health and a legacy of health for our children!