Food labels and healthy choices made simple
Food labels contain a lot of great information to help you make healthier food choices, but they’re so confusing that you end up either getting a headache and giving up or focusing on the least important bits of information.
The FDA delayed a major upgrade happening this month (July 26th) to 2020. More than a good reason to make you a pro in reading food labels, so you truly understand what’s in your packaged foods, make informed decisions and have a much better grocery shopping experience!
The main focus so far has been in the number of calories per serving, grams of fat and cholesterol but these are not the deal makers or breakers of your health. The real culprits are sugar and synthetic ingredients.
Follow these 6 easy steps to be a grocery shopping master:
1. Focus on the quality and not the quantity of calories. How? By reading the ingredients list in addition to the nutrition label.
Not all calories were created equal. 100 calories from organic non-GMO quinoa are not the same as 100 calories from a processed cookie baked with shortening high in trans-fats. If you really want that cookie, have it! But make that decision knowing all the facts and potential risks.
The ingredients list is more honest than the food label and will tell you the ratio of organic to synthetic foods, GMOs to non-GMOs and other important information. Try to avoid popular GMO oils such as soy, corn, canola, vegetable, rice bran and palm oils.
2. Look at the servings size, servings per package and the number of calories the percent daily value is based on.
Servings size is especially important in snacks as it is ridiculously small. Pick up your favorite snack bar and read the label. It happened to me. What I thought was only 150 calories suddenly tripled by just looking at the number of servings. That meant I had to run few extra more miles, not cool.
2,000 calories are the standard number used to calculate the percent daily values. The 5-20 rule is meant to help you know if you’re getting too little (>5% daily value) or too much (20%+) of the nutrients you need daily.
Despite the FDA good intentions, 2,000 calories is a lot for most of us, especially women. Think about your weight, how physically active you are and other factors highly individual to you. Only you know how many calories you need to function every day and how many go straight to your “best body parts” and take forever to get rid of, ha!
3. Stay away from foods with sugar as the top 2 ingredients.
Ingredients are listed in order of predominance and sugar, not fat is what ironically will make you fat.
Watch out for “added sugars”, the synthetic version of natural sugars. They’re not mandatory to be reported until 2020 and hard to identify because they come in over 50 different names. I am not joking. Sucrose and HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) are the common ones. Maltose, rice syrup, barley malt, dextrose, dextrin, and treacle are among the fancy names that will make your head spin (literally, if you have too much of them)
4. Avoid ingredients hard to pronounce or that you wouldn’t keep in your pantry individually. These are top in my list.
- Trans fats or PHOs (Partially Hydrogenated Oils). A couple of weeks ago the FDA finally banned them which is amazing news. A small catch though. Even products that list trans fats as zero in their nutrition labels can have PHOs if the amount is less than half a gram and their product was manufactured before the ban took place. Cheeky! If you look at the ingredients list, it may be listed there. READ: NO MORE TRANS FATS IN YOUR FOOD
- Aspartame, artificial sweeteners, and refined sugar.
- The so-called “natural” colors and flavors. Not so natural after all.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), BHA, BHT, and MSG. Acronyms are cool. These are not.
- Nitrite & Nitrate in processed and cured meats, known for increasing the risk of pregnancy complications among other issues.
- Potassium Bromate in flour, a carcinogen.
- Propyl Paraben, a hormonal disrupter and also carcinogen.
- Soy protein isolate, well known for playing with your thyroid and therefore metabolism and make you gain weight quickly.
5. Pay attention to sodium levels.
Sodium is an essential mineral that we all need, but most of us get too much of it and not the best quality when it’s part of packaged foods.
The American Heart Association recommends less than 1,500 mg/day and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as much as 2,300mg/day. I try to set my daily intake limit at 1,000mg. More than this and it can lead to high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart and kidney problems.
6. Vitamins and minerals in packaged foods are most likely synthetic.
Only 2 vitamins (A and C) and 2 minerals (calcium and iron) are currently required on the food labels. The regulation upgrade in 2020 will let vitamins A and C off the hook and make vitamin D and potassium mandatory. Even then only 4 will be reported, a tiny fraction of the 30 we need to be healthy.
Also, vitamins and minerals in packaged goods are most likely synthetic. How does this happen? Whole foods come with their own healthy natural nutrients, but they’re lost as they get processed and refined. To compensate for this loss, synthetic nutrients are added back, and “fortified” and “enriched” claims mislead us to think they’re better for us.
Try to avoid foods with these claims. There is no need to fortify or enrich anything that already has good nutritional value to start with.
Was this helpful? Are you ready to go through those supermarket aisles like a pro and be confident to say yes and no to your favorite munchies?
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