Food labels have been increasingly confusing to decipher. Marketing companies focus their messaging on how to get people to buy their product, yet these messages can be deceiving when it comes to the contents of the product and the nutritional value of the ingredients.
Nutritional health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sugars, sodium and cholesterol as low as possible to maintain a nutritionally balanced diet. However, marketing labels are often misleading when it comes to what you are buying.
Reading ingredient labels can really help you understand what you are consuming. For example, you may think 100% whole wheat bread or flavored Greek yogurts are healthy choices. However, the food label may reveal it contains additives including high fructose corn syrup, guar gum, colored dyes or artificial sweeteners including aspartame, sucralose/sucrose or Splenda. And the yogurt often may have up to 24 grams of sugar, per serving.
A product’s ingredients are listed in descending order of weight (from the most to the least). Typically, the less ingredients in a product, the less manufactured it is, which means the healthier it is to eat. Ingredients that are processed or manufactured are often difficult for our bodies to digest and use as fuel, or burn off as energy.
Recommendation on what to try to avoid when possible:
- High fructose corn syrup – a highly refined sweetener made from genetically modified corn
- Artificial sweeteners (acesulfame-K, aspertame, Equal, NutraSweet, Saccharin, Sweet’n Low, Sucralose, Splenda & Sorbitol) – they are chemically derived
- Hydrogenated oils (trans fat) – actually illegal in some countries
- “Enriched” and “bleached flour” (ie. “enriched” whole wheat flour has removed all of the nutrients and your body will have difficulty processing food with this ingredient. Carbs and empty calories are what remain- 100% whole wheat flour is the best option – or sprouted bread)
- Foods with 10 ingredients or more – typically, the more ingredients, the more a food is artificially manufactured
- Artificial colorings/flavorings – found in everything from soda to snack cakes, they are chemical compounds made from coal-tar derivatives to enhance color and flavor
- Saturated fats – leading cause of high cholesterol
- High sugars – refined white sugar has no nutrients and can cause premature aging, digestive problems and obesity
- High sodium – can lead to high blood pressure and excessive bloating
- MSG (monosodium glutamate) – an artificial flavor enhancer added to many foods
- Sodium nitrate – chemicals used to preserve meat
- BPA – a hormone mimicking chemical found in nearly all food packaging plastics – known to be harmful to your health
- GMOs (explained below)
Whenever you purchase a food item, remember to look at the Nutrition Facts label to understand the serving size and nutrients in a product and the ingredient label to avoid foods that are manufactured and may be hazardous to your health.
A general rule is to keep your daily intake of fat to less than 65 grams, saturated fat to less than 20 grams, cholesterol to less than 300 mg, sodium to less than 2400 mg, total carbohydrate to 300g and dietary fiber to 25 g (these are maximum measurements). Also, take a look at the serving size – it’s often misleading how many servings are in a package. For example, a Snapple bottle actually contains 2 servings – so you have to double the food label contents and calories.
AND what is all the hype about GMO?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. The genetic material of food organisms have been altered using genetic engineering techniques, creating unstable genes that do not naturally occur.
In the U.S., GMOs are in as much as 80% of conventional processed food. Most of which, are unlabeled in America.
Why GMOs are deemed bad for your body & environment:
- The health consequences of GMOs are unknown and potentially dangerous.
- GMOs have been rendered toxic when ingested (studies still pending).
- GMOs require massive amounts of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides (poisons). But companies produce them, as they are focused on mass production and revenue.
- Our bodies do not know how to digest GMOs.
Genetically modified organisms have not been proven to be safe in any way, and most of the studies are actually leaning in the other direction, which is why many of the world’s countries have banned these items.
The best way to avoid GMOs is to buy organic.