Reading food labels can be confusing. After all, manufacturers try and entice you to buy and sometimes hype up certain aspects of a product to make it seem healthier than it is.
Here are some pointers…
First, look at the front of the label and realize phrases like the following don’t necessarily mean “healthy”:
Typically when a product is devoid of something (sugar, fat, wheat), other ingredients need to be added to make the food tasty. For example, fat-free foods may have sugar added (jelly beans are fat free!). Vegan foods are notoriously full of fillers and additives. Organic can also throw you off…there can be organic sugars and oils that don’t serve you.
Once you check out the front label, don’t stop there…flip it over and discover what’s on the back.
Note the ingredients. Is the list of ingredients as long as the constitution? Maybe some words you can’t pronounce? If so, be leery. Aim for products that contain five or less ingredients, all of which are familiar to you.
Be aware of highly-processed oils – canola, rapeseed, safflower, etc. – that can be inflammatory. Better choices contain olive oil or coconut oil.
Check to see if there’s added sugars or fake sugars. These may be listed at dextrose, fructose, sucrose, etc.
After perusing the ingredients, check out the calorie count as well as the macros – protein, fat, carbs and bonus…fiber! These numbers all contribute to your goals and levels are different for each individual goal/person. As a rule of thumb, you do want some protein. Carbs aren’t bad – they are your fuel source – but, most carbs should come from real food sources. Similarly, fat isn’t bad, but does pack lots of calories. So, if your goal is leaning out, be aware of how much fat you are taking in.
Now, if your diet is mainly made up of whole foods, small amounts of “substandard” ingredients listed will be fine (a little canola oil or preservatives now and then aren’t going to kill you). But, stick to at least an 80/20 rule where AT LEAST 80% is nutritious.
Food quality matters! Knowledge is power! Get familiar with reading labels!