The Importance of Reading Food Labels
One of the things I try to stress to my clients is the importance of reading the ingredient labels on the foods they are consuming.
Obviously, the more you eat natural, whole foods — lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds — the better it is for your health. But if a portion of your diet consists of something out of a box, bag, or can, you should read the ingredient label and find out what you’re really ingesting.
To that end, here are some general guidelines to help you translate food labels into a simpler language anyone can understand.
1. The ingredients appearing on the food label, are listed in order of quantity, from most to least. So when reading a food label for cereal for example, you’ll typically see Whole Wheat listed first because the majority of the product will be made with it. Generally, Sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup will be listed next because most commercial cereals have massive quantities of one or both in them.
When purchasing any food, for your health’s sake, look for sugar to be listed much further down the ingredients list (if at all).
2. You’ll see words on the labels that you will be unable to pronounce, much less define. My personal rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce a food ingredient OR, you don’t know what the food ingredient is, don’t eat it!
Make a point to try to buy your products when you’re able to identify everything on the ingredient list. There are literally thousands of food additives that can cause health-related problems. The book Consumer’s Guide to Food Additives is a great source that defines each individual, and often unpronounceable, ingredient.
3. Food manufacturers can be very tricky and clever. For instance, when you see High Fructose Corn Syrup on a food label, that is just another way of saying SUGAR. That “trick” can be found in beverages, candy, frozen desserts, dairy products, meats, luncheon meats and ketchup, just to name a few. Food manufacturers also do quite a lot of “manipulating” foods that come in packages that say “diet” or “low-fat”. Please don’t eat these foods as they are not really FOOD at all, but a substance with lots of chemical ingredients!
4. When you’re reading a food label, don’t scan the Nutritional Facts box for calories and fat content and assume those numbers are for the entire item you’re holding. Most of the time, those numbers apply to the serving size — a portion — of that product.
For instance, when looking at a can of soup, you can quickly see that it contains 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. Look closer, and you’ll notice those numbers are based on a serving size of a half-cup. But most soup cans are approximately 1.5 cups, so you would need to multiple the calories and fat content by 3 in order to accurately calculate how much you’ll really be consuming.
For more information on deciphering the code of the Nutritional Facts label, here’s a great explanation from the FDA.