Why is it Important to Read Food Labels
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. Eating a “100 calorie” package of something that advertises on the box “no fat” and “10 grams of fiber”, may sound like a healthy option. But, this same package is likely filled with chemicals such as food additives and preservatives with little to no nutritional value.
Nourishing your body to healthy weight is so much more than counting calorie intake vs. calories burned. And, for you to gain clarity about which foods are supporting your health vs. those that increase inflammation and therefore disease, you must learn how to read food labels.
Before even going to the food label, I first look to see if I find the “organic” label on the front of the packaging. Non organic foods are treated with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and dairy products are often laced with antibiotic and unhealthy hormones. Organic food on the other side is prohibited from adding such chemicals.
Also, regulations require organic farmers to manage their soil in a way that substantially increases the nutritional value of their food. For example, an organic broccoli will have much more nutritional value than a broccoli that’s grown conventionally.
4 sections to check on your food label:
1. Read the ingredients list: First it’s important to know that the food 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, Benzoic Acid, Potassium Bromate, etc…you get the gist) it is likely a chemical, food coloring or other unnatural food additive. These additives destroy your gut flora and require your body to work very hard to break them down and detoxify them out.
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 make an informed decision.
3. Sugar, Fat and Sodium: These are the most addictive foods for our taste buds.
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 Association recommend between 6-9 tbsp. 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.
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 fats are not all created equal. Saturated fats are often found in bacon, sausages, red meat and dairy products. These types of foods can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood and increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.
On the other side there are foods such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, organic butter (or ghee is even better) that have saturated fat but also come with a slew of health benefits. Coconut oil and ghee are probably the best oils you can use for cooking. These oils are better for you than the highly refined and processed oils such as corn, soybean, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. Please throw those away including your margarine.
Learn more about ‘The Skinny on Fat’ here.
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 as it helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check while supporting healthy digestion. Dietary fiber is best consumed eating real vegetables, fruits and whole grains rather than packaged foods which contain highly processed and often synthetic fiber. Yuk!
PROTEIN: 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. 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 in smaller quantities, pasture raised and organic fed meats.
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