How to Understand Food Labels
It is very important to understand food labels and the nutrition tables found on packages. This information is key to understanding the ingredients, and nutrients in our food so we can help make informed decisions about the food we put into our bodies.
Picture from - https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label
With that being said, sometimes they can be hard to understand, and down right confusing. So I want to go through the basics of understanding a food label so you can make an informed choice in the foods that you eat.
Why is it important to be able to read food labels?
Food labels are important because they tell you the ingredients that are in your food. The ingredients are always listed in order from the food/ingredient with the most quantity in it to the one with the least amount in it.
It will also tell you what percentage of your daily requirement of nutrients are in the package, or what nutrients it lacks so you can provide yourself with a more rounded diet if you rely on packaged or processed foods. Many food items (and personal care products) “green wash” which means from the front of the package it looks healthy and natural, but in fact when you read the ingredients it states otherwise. A food can say “sweetened with honey” and you think it sounds good and a healthier snack or treat but in reality when you read the ingredients the first ingredient is sugar (which means the highest amount of any ingredient is sugar) and the last ingredient is honey (which is the lowest amount of any ingredient in the product). So for a product to claim something like that doesn’t necessarily mean it has no unhealthy ingredients in it, just that it has some of that ingredient in its package.
Food can also have “health claims” on the package, highlighting specific ailments such as “low in saturated fat”, or “heart healthy“ or “natural” The nutrition label will help you decipher if these claims are in fact true. These claims have to be accurate, but can be misleading or confusing at the same time.
I personally have a few rules I follow when I look at food labels:
1. First and foremost, I try and pick whole foods without a food label such as fruit, vegetables and organic lean cuts of meat and fish.
2. If I need to buy something packaged, my first rule is if I cannot tell you what the ingredient is exactly or cannot pronounce it I won’t consume it or give it to my family.
3. I avoid anything that says sugar, glucose, refined sugar as it isn’t needed in our bodies and causes more harm than good. I will however, use products that just contain honey, sweetened with fruit juice or fruit and maple syrup.
4. I look for certifications, and seals. Non GMO, Vegan (I am not vegan but this tells me there is no egg as my son has a sensitivity), Gluten Free, Organic a Dairy Free etc. To make sure it is third party tested and approved standards,
And always remember even though it says organic, natural, or healthy it doesn’t mean it’s good for you! Always read the labels!