Trusting the marketing printed on any packaged food is like being a mouse following the scent of cheese into the mousetrap, super deceiving and peppered with false promises about the quality and taste of the food. To get clarity about what’s really in the products you want to buy requires for you to read the food label and, while there is still so much room to improve the label, you will undoubtedly make a much more educated decision.
In this blog I share the top 4 sections to look at before making your choice:
1. Read the ingredients list: First it’s important to know that the ingredient list shows each ingredient in descending order by weight. So, the ingredient with the greatest contribution to the product weight is listed first, and the ingredient contributing the least by weight is listed last.
If you don’t know what an ingredient is (think Aspartame, Sodium Sulfite, Butylated hydroxyanisole, Sulfur Dioxide, Benxoic Acid, Potassium Bromate, etc…you get the gist) it is likely a chemical, food coloring or other unnatural food additive that destroys your gut flora and requires your body to work very hard to break them down and detoxify them out of your body.
2. Check the serving size: This will tell you the size of a single serving and the total number of servings per container. It’s important to understand how much the serving size is before you check any of the other sections to ensure you make an informed decision.
3. Sugar, Fat and Sodium: These are the most addictive foods for our taste buds. Let’s start with SUGAR: First remember that 4 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon or 1 sugar cube. The World Health Organization and the American Heart Assoc. recommend between 6- 9 tbs of sugar per day (so max 36g). Sometimes when dividing the number of grams of sugar by the grams of one serving size you’ll find that almost half of the food is sugar!! Ouch.
There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. These include common names, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, among others.
FATS aren’t bad for you and in fact your body needs fat to digest your food. But not all fats are created equal.
The good fats: The polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease so have at it.
The bad fats: You should avoid all Trans Fat PERIOD. When the label says a food contains “0 g” of trans fat, but includes “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, it means the food contains trans fat, but less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving (sneaky little suckers!).
Saturated fat is debated but from everything I've learned and my personal experience, I see only benefits. For example, coconut oil has saturated fat but also comes with a slew of health benefits. Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, organic butter (or ghee is even better) are great sources for cooking and much better than highly refined and processed oils such as corn, soybean, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. Please throw those away including your margarine.
SODIUM: As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium. This increases both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream which means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels.
Sodium and potassium have opposite effects on heart health: High salt intake increases blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, while high potassium intake can help relax blood vessels and excrete the sodium and decrease blood pressure.
4. Fiber and Protein: Fiber is a must and is best consumed eating real vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Fiber from plant-based sources promotes healthy gut flora, facilitates elimination, helps control blood sugar and maintains healthy body weight.
Much debate is had over how much Protein we need. My short answer is that it absolutely depends on the person, with each having their own needs BUT it is a myth that everyone needs to consume a certain amount of animal protein. An elephant or bison are vegan animals and also a number of highly successful athletes swear by a vegetarian diet. Having said that our body needs protein and getting them solely from plant-based foods requires a good understanding of the foods that provide the right combination of needed amino acids. The best sources of animal protein are wild-caught fish (salmon, trout, etc), eggs from pasture raised chickens, and to a smaller amount, pasture raised and organic fed meats.