Tips for Reading Food Labels and Checking Ingredients

When making food choices and trying to eat a healthy, nutrient dense diet one of the most important things you need to know and start doing is reading labels and checking ingredients. It goes beyond looking at the front of the box and seeing deceiving words like natural, organic, heart healthy, whole grain, low sugar, low carb, etc., etc. You need to take a closer look.

I know I have fallen for some of these tricks and sometimes still do when I am in a hurry. Recently I was buying my son a snack to take to school and was in the “health” section of the grocery store (what does that make the rest of the store?) I wanted to get him a gluten free cookie/cracker to match closely what his friends at school would be eating the next day. I grabbed Schar Gluten Free Sandwich Cremes and just threw them in my cart. I must have let the packaging get the better of me. The front of the box stated “Made in Europe vanilla delight – Crafted in Germany”. It also had “Gluten and Wheat Free, Non-GMO, Preservative Free” on the front of the box, along with being a nice yellow color. The next day I was opening the box and decided to take a closer look at the label – I was horrified! Here are the ingredients: Cookie: corn flour, palm fat, corn starch, sugar, corn syrup, soy flour, modified corn starch, natural vanilla flavor, salt, rice starch, ammonium bicarbonate and baking soda, for the Filling: Coconut fat, palm fat, dextrose lactose, whole milk powder, sugar, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor. I couldn’t believe I bought this “food”!

What are the things you should be looking for when reading food labels and checking ingredients? Here are my personal suggestions and what I try to look for:

1. Purchase foods that do not require labels such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

2. Purchase foods with fewer ingredients, three to five ingredients that you can pronounce (with a few exceptions).

3. Avoid foods that contain hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, trans fat and highly processed oils such as canola oil.

4. Avoid foods that contain artificial sweeteners, look for ingredients that end in “ose”, such as sucralose. Artificial sweeteners are commonly found in fat free and low fat products to make them taste better after removing the fat.

5. Look for sugar in the ingredient list, you want it to be close to the end of the list. You can also look at the grams of sugar per serving. Remember that 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon.

6. Avoid products that contain high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is often used as a sugar substitute or in addition to sugar, it is a sweeter and is cheaper to produce than sugar. It is highly processed and contains chemicals that burden the liver.

7. Avoid artificial flavoring and ask more questions about what the natural flavoring is, consider calling the company and asking. Even all natural flavoring can be highly processed.

8. Labels can change. You will want to check and re-check labels every so often. Companies change ingredients from time to time.

When you first start reading labels it may feel overwhelming and time consuming but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. It is important to know what you are putting into your body.

Reminder: I do provide kitchen/pantry cleanout assistance and grocery store guidance.

Be Well,

Jamey, NTP, CPT

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