HOW TO BECOME A LABEL READER
NUTRITION FACTS VERSES LIST OF INGREDIENTS
The nutritional information of a product is the part of the label that tells you how many calories the product consist of, as well as how many grams of fat, carbs, etc. While this information is definitely helpful for many people (especially those with blood sugar issues, etc.) it does not tell you everything about the product. Unfortunately, our culture has taught us that this is what matters most (low-fat, low-carb, low calorie, low-sugar) and so many people really only look at that section of the label, completely not realizing that what they are eating may actually be a far cry from real food.
So, if eating healthy, real food is your goal, then you need to start paying attention to the list of ingredients. The list of ingredients will tell you much more about what is actually in the product. You cannot simply trust the advertisement on the front label (advertising is so deceiving!) Think about it, their goal is to get you to want to buy the product. And who has time to read labels anyway? Something can be labeled “organic” and many people will buy it mainly for that reason, without ever checking the ingredient list. Advertisement is powerful.
A good rule of thumb for reading labels is the fewer ingredients listed, the better. For example, something that lists only chicken, water, and salt as the ingredients qualifies as a “real food” item. On the other hand, a different brand may advertise the same product but include 10 more ingredients, half of which you can’t even pronounce. This probably would not qualify as a “real food” item.
However, there is something to be said for the foods that ARE real that contain more than 5 or 6 ingredients. Many of the recipes on my blog contain more than 5 or 6 ingredients and they are considered “real food” recipes. So, technically, you could have a product with over 10 ingredients listed, but if they are all natural, real, unprocessed ingredients, it’s totally fine.
Another good rule of thumb to go by when reading labels is to consider each listed ingredient individually. Are they all items you would buy to cook with in your own kitchen at home? For example, if preservatives are listed in the ingredients, then it’s probably not something you want to buy.
Lastly, another trick to reading labels is to really look at those first few ingredients and ask yourself if they represent what’s advertised. For example, if the second ingredient listed on a box of “Almond Granola” is sugar and the third is maple syrup then you know that instead of oats and almonds for breakfast, you’ll be eating primarily sugar covered in milk. Not good.
INGREDIENTS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Although it’s nearly impossible to cover them all on this short post, I can give you a list of the most popular ones that you probably see everyday. These are ingredients that you most definitely want to avoid, when possible:
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
HYDROGENATED AND PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS
Can also be listed as mono- and diglyceride, high-stearate, or stearic rich.
MSG (MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE)
Ingredients that always contain MSG: Glutamic acid, glutamate, monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, yeast extract, anything “hydrolyzed” and any “hydrolyzed protein”, autolyzed yeast, and gelatin.
Ingredients that usually contain MSG: flavors, flavorings, broth, stock, maltodextrin, protease, malt extract, soy sauce, and seasonings.
PRESERVATIVES (TBHQ, BHT, OR BHA)
Such as: Aspartame, Acesulfame-K (Acesulfame Potassium), Cyclamates, Saccharine, and Sucralose.
Brand names include: NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Equal-Measure, Sunette, Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sweet ‘N Low, Sugar Twin, Necta Sweet, Sweet Twin, and Splenda.
SOY (almost always genetically modified)
Such as: Canola oil, vegatable oil, or cottonseed oil
GENETICALLY MODIFIED INGREDIENTS
Most common GM foods: corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, papayas, and some zucchini.
NITRATES AND NITRITES
*For a more extensive list with descriptions and very helpful information, go here.