These days everything is trying to tell you how healthy it is.
Then we find out the product was deceiving us by using some alternative word for sugar. Or the substitute they used instead of fat is more dangerous than actual fat is. Or despite all its protein, the rest of it is junk food. Or it has 1% whole grain and 99% nothing good for you.
I know it's so confusing and I got you covered! Read on for three simple steps to deciphering food labels and choosing the best quality food.
But first, why should I read food labels?
We wonder why we keep eating what's supposed to be healthy but our medical tests, energy level, sleep quality, clothing fit, and ailments aren't getting better. In some cases they're worse.
Headaches, skin rashes or acne, gas & bloating, constipation, allergies, thyroid issues, candida, achy joints, and more can all be related to the quality of the food we're eating.
Food labels aren't just for calorie, fat, carb, & protein counting.
Food quality is one of the most important contributors to your health and well-being, as well as your body size. As one saying goes: "counting chemicals trumps counting calories."
So how do I decipher the truth of what's in my food?
The best way to find out about the quality of the food and decide what to buy is by reading the nutrition label - not from the "all natural, low fat, etc." claims on the packaging. So after you've filtered out what you don't eat due to a food allergy or other medical reason, take these three quick steps to choosing the best food available.
OVERALL GOAL: choose foods closest to its natural, unprocessed state.
1. Turn it over and start with the INGREDIENTS list. Look for a low number of total ingredients & that the ingredients are real food.
Typically the more ingredients, the more it starts to include chemicals, preservatives, artificial ingredients, flavorings and colors, and all sorts of things we don't even know what they are. (This doesn't apply if the item has a lot of natural spices, like in tea, or something like a pre-made salad with a lot of real food in it.)
2. Low in SUGAR, especially added sugar
This is key because there are hidden sugars in so much of our food, even stuff we consider "healthier" like sports drinks, fruit juices, salad dressings, granola and yogurts. Cutting your sugar intake will pay you back in so many ways. (For lots more on sugar click here & here).
Focus on choosing food that doesn't list sugar as one of its first ingredients and look for sugar grams lower than double digits in a serving size you would realistically eat. This is important because sometimes the company will make the serving size lower than anyone actually eats so they can make it look like the sugar or calorie numbers are a lot lower. Overall, compare different brands of the same food and choose the one with lower sugar content.
(Note: companies use a lot of different words for sugar in their ingredients list, including things that sound natural such as fruit juice concentrate or brown rice syrup. You don't need to know all of them because focusing on the amount of sugar grams in a realistic serving size will cover you regardless of what the company is calling their sweetener).
3. CLOSE TO NATURAL: organic, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, humanely handled animals
These are how the plants and animals naturally are. Unfortunately because it became so common to put pesticides in our food supply, genetically modify it (I even noticed that the gum I was chewing said it was genetically modified), and give animals antibiotics, feed them what nature didn't create them to eat, and have them live in conditions contrary to their nature, it seems "extra" to worry about looking for all these "free of" labels. But it's just about eating it the way it was put on the planet.
I know it's not remotely possible to only eat food free of these modifications but move toward it. Pick a few foods and start getting just that regularly. The flavor of meats and poultry when they're organic, grass-fed and antibiotic-free is so much better. And you can consult the "dirty dozen & clean 15" list for help with choosing produce.
Now for some fun! Check out these comparisons and see how easy it is to apply the three steps:
Jimmy Dean Premium Original Pork Sausage Patties:
Pork, Water, Contains 2% or less of: Sodium Lactate, Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Natural Flavorings, BHA, BHT, Citric Acid.
Applegate Farms Natural Chicken & Sage Breakfast
Sausage: Chicken, Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of: Sugar, Salt, Spices, Sage.
Pringles Original Flavor Potato Chips: Dried Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil), rice flour, wheat starch, maltodextrin, mono-and diglycerides, salt, dextrose.
Kettle Brand Potato Chips: Sea Salt, Non-GMO Potatoes, safflower/sunflower/or/canola oil, sea salt.
Nature Valley Protein Granola: Whole Grain Oats, Sugar (12 g.), Soy Protein Isolate, Canola Oil, Honey, Molasses, Rice Starch, Soy Lecithin, Baking Soda, Salt, Natural Flavor, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added To Preserve Freshness.
Purely Elizabeth Ancient Grains Granola: Organic Gluten-Free Oats, Organic Coconut Sugar (6 g.), Organic Raw Virgin Coconut Oil, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Puffed Amaranth, Organic Millet Flakes, Organic Quinoa Flakes, Organic Chia Seeds, Organic Cinnamon, Salt.
Quaker Peanut butter Chewy bar: granola (whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, brown rice crisp [whole grain brown rice flour, sugar, salt], whole grain wheat, soybean oil, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, nonfat, dry milk), corn syrup, brown rice crisp (whole grain brown rice flour, sugar, salt), peanut butter spread (peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt, peanut oil), peanut flavored pieces (sugar, vegetable oil (palm kernel and palm oil), partially defatted peanut flour, lactose, dry whey, dextrose, corn syrup solids, soy lecithin, salt, natural flavor), dehydrated marshmallow pieces (sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, gelatin, sodium phosphate, natural flavor), corn syrup solids, glycerin, invert sugar, soybean oil, sorbitol, calcium carbonate, sugar, fructose, natural flavor, salt, soy lecithin, molasses, BHT (preservative), citric acid, tocopherols (preservative).
Peanut butter Larabar: dates, peanuts, sea salt.
Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Soft Sprouted Grain Bread: sprouted whole wheat flour, whole wheat flour, water, oats, wheat gluten, wheat, brown sugar (sugar, invert sugar, molasses), soybean oil, yeast, contains 2% or less of: molasses, sat, calcium propionate and sorbis acid to extend freshness, monoglycerides, datem, soy lecithin, whey (milk).
Ezekiel Bread: organic sprouted wheat, organic sprouted barley, organic sprouted millet, organic malted barley, organic sprouted lentils, organic sprouted soybeans, organic sprouted spelt, filtered water, fresh yeast, organic wheat gluten, sea salt.
Pretty obvious isn't it?
Probably a lot easier than you realize until seeing the alternatives side by side.
From here, you can refine the foods to your specific dietary needs such as food sensitivities or allergies.
What do I do now?
Information isn't transformation! If you could use help figuring out how to make this information work and last in your busy life, click here to schedule a complementary consult call.
To you, your life & wellness,
Happy you're here! This is where I give you food hacks and habit tricks so you can break free from out-of-control eating & cravings and feel so much better in your own skin.
♥ join the movement ♥
Debbie Thompson, B.A., M.S., Certified Health & Life Coach
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