How the heck do you read nutrition labels?
Have you ever found yourself standing in the grocery aisle with a box of crackers feeling extremely perplexed by what the heck you were looking at?
I've been there too! Before my nutrition days I probably didn't even read labels much. I really just had no idea how to decipher them because they can be SO dang confusing.
So today I am here to help you learn how to read those labels to make your shopping trip a whole lot easier. Yes, you should always read the ingredient list if you are buying a packaged good - food companies try to sneak in a whole lot of creepy ingredients these days. Then from there, let's look at the nutrition facts chart (the box that lists things like sodium and carbohydrates).
When reading an ingredient list the first thing you should know is that they are listed in order of percentage found within the product. The ingredient listed first will make up the highest percentage of the product and then it goes down from there. So if sugar is listed first, you know that this product is probably candy and contains a crap ton of the white stuff...sugar I mean.
Next, you need to decipher the ingredients. What you want to see are easy to understand ingredients like olive oil, sea salt, cane sugar, etc...but unfortunately this just isn't the case with most packaged goods anymore. This also goes for supplements like protein powders and bars. You need to read those lists too.
Some ingredients to Look out for
1. SUGAR in it's many forms - sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrin, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, invert sugar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, lactose, blackstrap molasses, turbinado, sucanat, galactose, honey and more!
Honey Nut Cheerios (as shown above) contains four types of sugar. Four!
Sugar, golden sugar, honey (very likely that this is not pure honey, but part sugar syrup), and refiner's syrup (golden syrup - inverted sugar syrup). This isn't okay! This is promoted as a healthy breakfast item specifically for children.
Some forms of sugar are MUCH better than others, however we still need to be mindful of how much we are consuming and what they do in our body.
Better sugars include raw local honey, molasses, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. I love baking with these.
Then there are Artificial sweeteners or zero calorie sweeteners. these usually aren't considered sugar.
The ones to ALWAYS avoid:
Aspartame, Splenda aka sucralose, Saccharin.
Just these side effects should freak you out...
Anxiety, depression, short-term memory loss, fibromyalgia, weight gain, fatigue. (1)
Then there are these: Erythritol and xylitol (natural sugar alcohol). These are considered natural sweeteners.
Often marketed as a better option and/or 'natural', I am still not a fan of them. Small amounts can cause gastrointestinal problems and headaches. Someone with IBS, for instance, should stay far away from this stuff.
These two sweeteners are sugar alcohols, therefore they go through your body basically unsuspected. Your body doesn't get anything from them, except possible side effects.
One reason we have these zero calorie sweeteners is for weight loss. But in reality, you just need to learn how to shop right, read labels, eat nourishing whole foods, MOVE and work on your mindset. If that doesn't work, then yes there could be some other underlying issues. A zero calorie sweetener isn't the answer and unfortunately many people fall for this. A good example? Diet Coke products.
Small amounts of erythritol are found in some natural goods like fermented foods and some fruits, however erythritol sold as a sweetener is commonly made of glucose taken from GMO cornstarch and then fermented with yeast.
Many times these products are mixed with the WORST artificial sweetener offenders like aspartame.
*Oh and xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs!
REAL NATURAL SWEETENERS
Better options - stevia (pure) or monk fruit (no calories and no effect on blood sugar).(1)
2. Bad fats and oils: Vegetable, canola, peanut, safflower, corn, soybean, palm oil and margarine, which is usually made up of these oils.
These oils are cheap, the most processed of the processed, as well as light & shelf stable. These oils cause inflammation in your body due to excessive consumption of Omega-6. Many of these oils are also genetically modified.
Good fats and oils: virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, organic grass-fed butter, ghee, sesame oil, hemp seed oil, flax seed oil, nut oils like walnut.
The Honey Nut Cheerios contain canola oil.
3. OTHERS TO AVOID: ADDITIVES + FLAVOURS + PRESERVATIVES + DYES
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
Butylated hydroxy-anisole, BHA, BHT
to name a few!
The Honey Nut Cheerios contain some other fun ingredients such as Trisodium Phosphate. Can you guess what that is? You are going to be surprised...
PAINT THINNER! A TOXIC CHEMICAL! What the heck is this doing in our food?
Also monoglycerides: manufactured from animal fat or vegetable oils (soybean, canola, palm, rapeseed, cottonseed, sunflower, coconut)
If you like to buy nut butters such as peanut butter you want to see just the nut in the ingredient list. You DO NOT want to see added sugar and oil. Many of the products on the market contain these unnecessary additives. I love this Canadian brand.
A note about fortified products - products that contain added vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D: for the most part these are not bioavailable forms of the nutrients. So I would not rely on fortified orange juice just because it says it has added vitamin D and calcium. Chances are your body can't do anything with it. You need to look for real sources of these nutrients + a quality supplement if needed.
Read the NUTRITION FACTS chart.
Here's how you do it!
CALORIES: we aren't going to spend too much time here counting calories boys and girls. All I want you to consider is where the calories are coming from. Carbs, protein and fat all contain calories. Different calories will do different things in our body and affect us in different ways.
If the calories are mostly coming from sugar, they are known as 'empty calories', meaning they have no nutritional benefit to us. HaIf of an avocado has around 120 calories. We know that some of the calories are coming from good, unprocessed fats.
we NEED CALORIES TO LIVE! Just good sources of calories like good fats.
FAT: yes, we do need fat. But good fat! Here you want to pay attention to where the fats are coming from. The ingredients list also helps with that.
You do not want to see TRANS FATS in any of your food. Canada will officially have these banned by September 2018 and the US June 2018 (2). However, in the meantime keep an eye out for them. I was scoping out the "healthier" versions of Kraft Dinner the other day (another product marketed mostly towards children or teens and I found TRANS FATS! I was surprised, based on the company and their so-called values.
Trans fats are usually found in fast food items, baked goods or as something to help a product remain shelf stable. In short, they promote disease not health. The research is all there.
Natural saturated fats from coconut oil for instance, are good for you! Yes they are ♡.
Read more here if you need a better understanding.
SODIUM: yes, you do want to check this. You also want to consider what kind of salt is being used. Table salt and Himalayan salt are very different. Himalayan salt is actually nutrient dense.
CHOLESTEROL: there are good and bad types of cholesterol. We do need cholesterol for a multitude of things. In fact, our bodies produce it. The rest we get from food.
CARBOHYDRATES: made up of fibre and sugars. Ideally you want the fibre to be higher depending on what you are eating. With the Cheerios, the amount of sugar is substantially higher than the fibre, which we could tell from the ingredient list. This means a blood sugar spike is on the horizon and there's not enough fibre + good fats to help with that. Oh and let's not forget, not enough good fibre to help the morning poop move along. When you add the fibre + sugar up, that should technically = the amount of carbs, but that never seems to be the deal. There is always something missing. Try it yourself. The Cheerios don't quite add up.
PROTEIN: simple - how much you are getting per serving? The Cheerios contain a measly 2g of protein. Not enough for a good start to the day! (3)
Determine whether this food is going to promote disease or health. Look we all have some guilty pleasures - like say, Doritos?
Find a healthy swap! There's plenty of crunchy, salty, but healthier options out there.
I personally enjoy making organic popcorn in coconut oil or ghee, then topping it with a sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt and nutritional yeast for that cheezy flavour!
By avoiding products like Doritos we are showing some mega love to our bodies, our children's bodies and taking a stand against junk foods that are not good for your health and are ruining parts of our natural environment. Think about it. It's even more than just your health, its also the environment, the world!
For years many of us were told to really just pay attention to things like calories, fat, cholesterol and maybe sodium. We weren't really told to actually read through the ingredient list and be critical.
And you know what? Years ago, you probably didn't have to because food was not as processed and all of these crazy ingredients were not used. Years ago, it was all about home cooking! Our lives were pretty different. We didn't rely on ready-made meals as much until the TV dinner came about! Sitting down to enjoy a home cooked meal was a HUGE part of the day and a time to reconnect and enjoy the hard work that went into the food.
People also valued food so much more. They knew that they needed good, real food to nourish their family. They also understood the hard work that went into bringing it to the table, Whereas today we forget the importance of REAL, WHOLESOME FOOD.
In fact, most of us in North America in particular take food for granted. We just think that it's something that we are entitled to and that will always appear on our plate. We have fully stocked grocery stores that we walk into and then we don't really think about where the food came from or how if got there.
I challenge you in 2018 to take the time to read food labels, talk to farmers, suppliers and read more about where your food comes from. From there, you start making better choices that will in turn help you and your family as well the natural environment ♡.
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(1) Dr. Axe. Erythritol: The good, the bad & the ugly with this common sweetener. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/erythritol/. February 7, 2018.
(2) CBC News. (2017, September 15). Health Canada trans fat ban takes effect next year. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/trans-fats-1.4292241. February 7, 2018.
(3) Telpner, M. (2013). Undiet: Eat your way to vibrant health. Toronto, Ontario. McClelland & Stewart.