Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Reading and Understanding Food Labels

Reading and understanding food labels can be frustrating and downright confusing. It really shouldn’t be so complicated but the fact is that food manufacturers will try just about anything to confuse or deceive the public about what is in their food so we will buy it and increase their profits. Thus, reading and understanding the labels of the food you are purchasing for yourself and your family is essential to your health and proper development for your children.

Before we get into how to read a food label, I want to give you a heads up on some things to look out for while reading the label. 

7 General tips: 

      1. If the ingredient list below the nutrition facts is closer to a short story than a few items, don’t buy it! If you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize some of the ingredients, put the product back on the shelf! Another common rule of thumb is to look for foods with no more than five ingredients. Lengthy lists are usually a sign that a product has unnecessary extras such as artificial preservatives.

      2. The ingredient list is listed in order by weight, from the greatest amount to the least.

      3. If sugar is one of the first two ingredients, don't bring it home. Remember, the ingredients are in order by volume, so the higher up sugar, fructose or high fructose corn sugar are on the list the more of it a product contains. This is an easy way to spot foods that include a lot of added sugar. (Naturally occurring sugar won't be listed)

a.    However, manufacturers will try to split up sugar into dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane crystals and so on, so none of them are the first ingredient. But if you added all the sugar up, it would be the first ingredient listed. You might consider avoiding any product if there is sugar in more than one form.
     4. If a product contains less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving, it can be listed as containing zero trans fats. Those trace amounts can really add up if you’re eating multiple servings per day.

     5. To maximize your fiber intake, look for whole grains in the ingredient lists. If you don’t see the word “whole” before the name of a grain, it’s not a whole grain. “Enriched flour” is not a whole grain product, nor is “unbleached white flour.” They are the same as white flour and have been stripped of fiber. If you are going to consume grains stick to whole grains as they will give the amount of fiber you are looking for. However, most people should be avoiding grains in their diet as they can cause problems ranging from systemic inflammation to diabetes if not consumed properly and recent research has correlated increased grain intake with depression and dementia. Consider replacing grains with healthy fats or alternatives such a quinoa. Health fats are essential for proper function of the nervous systems and most western diets are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. 
6. Be aware of hidden names. For example, alternative names for MSG are: Hydrolyzed Protein: (plant, vegetable, any kind), Sodium or Calcium Caseinate, Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Extract, Yeast Food, Yeast Nutrient, Textured Protein, Glutamic Acid.  This is not exclusive to only MSG however the list is too long to go through.

     7. Understand that ingredients in a product may change, even if you have been buying this product for years, be sure to periodically check the list on the product.
 Reading Nutrition Labels:

      1. Be sure to start by looking at the serving size. Packages frequently contain more than a single serving, which means that you may have to multiply all the amounts listed to get an accurate picture of how many calories or how much sugar is in a single container. Also, be realistic with yourself. If the serving size is 12 chips and the bag contains 6 servings.  Do you eat 1/6 of the bag, half the bag, or the whole bag in one sitting? BE HONEST!

      2. Next, follow the % Daily Values. Daily values are the average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day not per meal.
a.        If a value is 5% or less, consider it low.  This works both ways for nutrients that we want and that we don’t want (one exception for this would be Trans-fat, try for less than 1%). 
b.      If a value is 20% or more, consider it high. Try to aim high for Vit D, Fiber, Protein, other vitamins and minerals.
       3. Check the saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium.
a.        Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of total calories daily. Try to find foods with higher levels or unsaturated fats instead of saturated.
b.      Limit trans fats to as low as possible, preferably under 1%.
c.       Limit sugar to less than 15% of total calories.
d.      Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg daily


Buying healthy groceries for your family has become difficult and requires knowledge of ingredients and nutritional facts.  Food manufacturing is big business and understands that the main priority of big business is to make money. Food additives/preservatives are put into foods for several reasons but the main two is to make the food aesthetically pleasing and to preserve the shelf life. When stopping, shop around the edges of the store.  Stay fresh, buy things that were living and could grow, those are the foods that will have the essential building blocks that your cells need to be healthy. A general rule is if you could grow it in your garden then buy as much as you want, if the item is not on the parameter of the store (ex. Vegetables, fruit, meat, etc) but is down an aisle then read the ingredients closely because chances are there are additives in those products that may not be in your best interest to consume regularly.

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