How to Understand Food Labels
By Lydia Wallie, Nutrition Director
Are you confused with label reading? The nutrition world is an ever-increasingly confusing one! This post will help you understand what to avoid.
But, before reading this, just think simple! If you're buying one-ingredient foods, those are going to be the most nutritious foods. Here are some examples: meat, eggs, poultry, vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts, seeds, certain oils, and more. Processed foods need a label to describe all the ingredients, and the more we avoid processed foods, the better.
If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, don’t buy it.
If you wouldn’t buy and stock the ingredients in your pantry, don’t but it.
100% Natural is deceptive. Rocks are natural and poisonous snakes are natural…are you going to eat those for dinner?!
Natural Flavor. This is A very COMMON ingredient, so with everything, chose the best options available to you. Here’s some surprising research on this: “[Natural] flavors are currently the fourth most common food ingredient list on food labels. In reality, ‘natural flavors’ are a far cry from what consumers might expect, as they can contain both artificial and synthetic chemicals (often used as processing aids).” (1)
Fat Free. Why are we avoiding fat? We shouldn’t be. Fats are an important macronutrient and we can’t absorb fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K if we aren’t consuming healthy fats. like avocado, olives, butter, and coconut.
Sugar Free. If it’s sugar free, why is it sweet? Usually it’s because of artificial sweeteners like xylitol, erythritol, or aspartame. Artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Avoid MSG which is a neurotoxin. (2)
The calorie count DOES NOT translate to whether a food is healthy or not. Hemp seeds have a high calorie count and are very nutritious, whereas aspartame has zero calories and is highly toxic as noted by Dr. Mercola. (3)
Fortified foods: These are typically foods that have been so processed that they have to add nutrients back in (processed breads for example). However, don't be fooled, the vitamins they add back in are typically synthetic. Cyanocobalamin (B12), D2, and folic acid are great examples of synthetic vitamins to avoid. Better forms of those vitamins are methylcobalamin (B12), D3, and folate, respectively. Especially if you have the MTHFR gene or are pregnant, take folate rather than folic acid. (4)
Low Calorie: What's most important is nutrient density. Are the foods we're eating whole and as unprocessed as possible? If so, they will be filling enough that we won't need to constantly count calories (hopefully!).
Are you still craving the processed foods? Do you need help overcoming not-so-great habits and transitioning to a healthy eating plan? If so, you can schedule a Nutrition Session with our Nutrition Specialist. Accountability makes all the difference in succeeding with your nutrition goals!