3 Steps to Navigating Nutrition Labels

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Knowing what to look for on a food label can be tricky.  We are constantly bombarded with beautiful marketing on the front, and then when we look to the back all the numbers can seem confusing.

The boring back part with the Nutrition Facts and Ingredients is where the truth lies though.  This is where companies can’t hide behind clever marketing mind games.

 

I want to arm you with the knowledge to make informed healthy choices, so here are a the most important things to check when you are deciding whether something is ‘healthy’ or not.

1. Ingredient List

This is numero uno for a reason.  No matter what all the macro nutrients are or what vitamins are put into a food, if it’s made of crap…it don’t matter.  Your body is real smart.  It knows the difference between quality and crap.  Nutrients that come from whole real foods are better and more efficiently used.  Our body won’t run well on chemicals, artificial ingredients and fortified nutrients, in the end they will cause imbalances and ill-health.

Remember you literally made up of what you eat.  Even when looking at the Nutrition Facts you will often reference this list, so get real comfortable with looking at ingredient lists.

So what the heck to do you look for?  What are the red flags?

 

  • Less is more:  When the list is 3 inches long I’d be willing to bet there are more than a few things your body will not like and doesn’t need.  Processed food is often stuffed full of fillers, preservatives and other toxic ingredients.
  • Can you pronounce it?  Can you actually picture what it looks like?:  Be able to do at least one of these things with each ingredient.  Perhaps there is some exotic ingredient like Dragon Fruit you’ve never seen, but you can say it.  You can probably able to say “artificial flavors,” but what in the hell does that even mean?
  • MSG: Monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein…with more than 40 forms it's not alway easy to pick out.  This is a neurotoxin that damages nerve cells to the point of cell death.  The best way to stay away from this poison is really just to stay as far away from over processed food as possible.  You won’t find any in your grass-fed beef or organic veggies.  One place you know you won't find any of this stuff is at your local farmers market, or co-op.
  • Artificial Colors: First off we know it’s not a real food if they are adding colors, and we know they are trying to make this food seem more appealing than it really is.  So someone is trying to trick us.  Which is a personal pet peeve.  Beyond that, artificial colors are linked to hyperactivity in children, tumors and cancer.  

2. Trans Fat and Hydrogenated Oils

Unfortunately, for too many years the wrong fat was shunned.  It’s not saturated fat that's causing disease but this sure is.  Hydrogenated oils are a modern-day human invention.  To keep things super simple these are vegetable oils that have had hydrogen forced into them.  This makes the oil solid instead of liquid and creates shelf stability for processed foods.  Remember though, our body is smart.  Each of our cells is literally made up of fats, but this fat has been chemically altered and therefore wreaks havoc on our systems.  It has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and impaired infant growth.

  • Check the Trans Fat section on the label
  • If listed as zero; double-check the ingredients list.  If there are any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil it does in fact contain trans fat
  • If there is less than .5g of trans fat per serving the manufacturer does not have to list it.  Which means they can create a serving size that benefits them but not you as a consumer

3. Sugar

One of my favorite topics!  I will try to keep this short and sweet (oh puns!), which will be difficult for me.  It comes in so many forms and it is a large cause for the obesity epidemic in American, diabetes and heart disease.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g of added sugar/day for women and 37g/day for men.  That amount of added sugar can easily be found in on bowl of cereal, or yogurt.  Beware of artificial sweeteners as well.  These modern inventions are almost worse than sugar.  They disrupt gut health, and have been shown to actually cause people to gain weight further contributing to obesity and diabetes.  To top it all off sugar is addicting!  Like really addicting.  Ok ok, I’m going to stop, but a full post on sugar is ahead.  So what do you look out for?
  • Keep this in mind as you look at a label: every 4g of sugar = 1 teaspoon.  The teaspoons add up quick!
  • Sugar is hidden under many names!  You have to be a sleuth sometimes.
Hidden-Sugars
P.S. Sugar that is naturally occurring in the food will be less harmful to ones health, but a juice that has 32g of sugar per serving is not a health food.  It still effects your bodies organs and systems the same way.  The difference is there are some other nutrients in it that a refined does not have.

 

In the end if you shift your food choices to more whole foods, and away from packaged and processed you won’t have to worry about labels much.  No one will suffer a deficiency in additives, chemicals, processed sugar, or trans fat.  I guarantee you.  Not only do these things have absolutely no positive effect on your health, but they have many negative.  Now go forth and make informed choices!  It's probably not realistic to never eat packaged food, but now you can choose wisely.

--Tera--

 

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