Nowadays (unfortunately), a large part of the food we purchase comes in packages. Understanding the labels on these foods is tricky, and even worse is the fact that the manufactures may try to trick us so that we think the food is healthier than it really is! For example - they trick us with marketing claims like "all natural", "low-calorie", etc., and by marking the serving sizes as something way smaller than what we'd normally consume.
I’ve recently noted that, despite more widespread awareness on health and wellness, most people still don’t pay enough attention to nutrition labels as they should, or don’t really know how to properly ready/understand the labels, in order to make the healthiest decision about what to buy (and what to avoid).
Therefore, I’m laying out for you my BEST TIPS to keep in mind when choosing your food. This mini guide will make your "healthy food" shopping (and weight loss) a lot easier!
Please pay close attention and SHARE this with others (especially people that may have problems with weight, digestion, candida, diabetes/insulin resistance, blood pressure, cholesterol, or even fatigue, headaches and allergies).
Here are my 8 BEST TIPS for using ingredient labels to your benefit:
1. The #1 and most important thing to keep in mind is: READ INGREDIENTS FIRST. The biggest mistake that people make is focusing on the product marketing of being “natural” or “great for heart health”, or even focusing on the calories and grams of fat. When actually, more important than these “nutrition facts” and marketing claims is the actual INGREDIENTS of the product. Read the ingredients carefully, paying special attention to the following 5 tips I'm about to share.
2. Avoid excessively long list of ingredients. Products with too many ingredients, especially ingredients that you can’t pronounce or don’t know what they are, are a huge red flag. I usually suggest choosing products with under 5 ingredients, and make sure they’re real foods.
Note: Beware of “natural flavors” in your ingredients, which is very arbitrary, and most health experts believe to be almost the same as “artificial ingredients” but just sounds better! If they don’t list the ingredients, beware.
3. Pay MOST attention to the first few ingredients. Ingredients are always listed in the order of their weight / of their % makeup in the food, so the first ingredient is most important, then the second, etc. That being said, remember my first suggestion – usually the less ingredients, the better.
4. Watch out for SUGARS. Sugar – in all of its forms – is addictive, and is a precursor to disease. Sugar (especially the processed kind) leads to inflammation, it makes your blood very acidic, and feeds the bad yeast in your gut, all of which can create serious issues for your health. Unfortunately, most processed foods contain sugar in some form, but don't always label it as "sugar." Watch out for other common names for sugars, which include:
- corn syrup / corn sugar
- rice syrup
- malt / isomalt
- evaporated cane juice
- concentrated fruit juice
- beet sugar / cane sugar / date sugar etc.
Again, READ the ingredients carefully, look out for any of these names listed above (ESPECIALLY IN THE FIRST 3-4 INGREDIENTS because remember they are listed in order of %!).
And then look at the GRAMS of sugar. Most of the time, I suggest staying away from foods with more than 5-7g of sugar per serving (though it varies per food; sometimes even 3g is high!).
And if the food requires sugar/sweetness, opt for ones whose sugar comes from natural or less processed sources, and with added benefits, such as dates (or other fruits), honey, brown rice syrup or molasses (which contain other vitamins/minerals and fiber).
5. Watch out for MSG. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is used to enhance the flavor of processed foods (that lack the real flavor of real foods!), and unfortunately, it’s VERY commonly found in packaged foods. The following ingredients are common sources of MSG:
- whey protein & soy protein isolate & hydrolyzed proteins
- glutamate & glutamic acid
- autolyzed yeast & yeast extract
- natural beef flavoring
- soy sauce extract
- “natural” flavors & “seasonings”
6. Watch out for SODIUM. Salt and other forms of sodium are commonly used as preservatives in packaged foods. As a reminder, excess sodium not only makes you bloated, but it’s also linked to hypertension (because it draws in water, increases blood volume, and this increases blood pressure). So always look at the mg of sodium, and keep in mind:
- Your total daily intake of sodium should not exceed 1500-2300mg – depending on your age and condition (and 2,300 is only about 1 tsp of salt!). And it’s way better to get your sodium from fresh, naturally sodium-rich foods like sea veggies and fish, or even from sprinkling sea salt on your foods, than from packaged foods!
- Generally speaking, I’d suggest avoid foods with more than 250mg per serving. But of course its relative, and you MUST look out for the serving size and realistically think about how many servings you’re consuming!
- Watch out for foods that list salt or sodium in the ingredients, especially as one of the first few ingredients. If/when they do contain salt, opt for ones with SEA SALT, which at least is less processed and tends to have slightly less sodium than regular table salt.
7. Opt for Organic or at least NON-GMO when possible. While this is definitely not enough to determine that a food is good for you, it at least ensures that your food (and its ingredients) have not been genetically modified, which in excess can be detrimental to your health.
8. Don’t fear FAT. Low-fat foods are usually filled with sugar (or some fake form of sugar) and/or MSG to make up for the lack of fat and lack of taste due to removal of fat. So be careful with low-fat. The most important thing, again, is to look at the ingredients and only choose foods with GOOD QUALITY FATS.
- ALWAYS AVOID margarine, vegetable oils (including soybean oil) and trans fats (most commonly hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils).
- CHOOSE OILS that are: organic, virgin and unrefined, in addition to either cold-pressed or expeller pressed. Note: if it only says “olive oil” it's most likely a refined olive oil, so you want to make sure it specifies “extra virgin olive oil”.
A note on TRANS FATS: just because a package claims it has “no trans fats”, it may be false! Even if a product contains some trans fats, but less than 1 gram per serving, it can be listed as containing zero trans fats… and that can still add up! And in case you didn’t know - Trans fat has been shown to both increase your "bad" LDL cholesterol AND decrease your "good" HDL cholesterol—a double no-no!
Remember, just because a food is labeled as "natural", “low in fat”, gluten-free or organic, does not necessarily mean it is good for you. READ THE INGREDIENTS and follow these 8 tips above!
Love and Happy Food Shopping!