“If it has a label don’t eat it,” is what I preach. However, there are some exceptions. But think about this: If there is a health food section in the grocery store, what does that make the rest of the food sold there? The general rule: If it has any ingredients you don’t recognize or pronounce, put the item down. Be a smart label reader. Labels contain both the ingredients and specific (but not all) nutrition information. Here are keys to know about contents listed on labels included on packaged foods.
Beware of marketing. Remember, the front of the label is food marketing at its cleverest. It is designed to seduce you into an emotional purchase and may contain exaggerated claims. Look for quality ingredients. Organic whole foods are now available in packages, cans and boxes.
Where is the ingredient on the list? If the real food is at the end of the list and the sugars or salt is at the beginning of the list, beware. The most abundant ingredient is listed first and then the others are listed in descending order by weight.
Beware of ingredients not on the list. Foods that are exempt from labels include foods in very small packages, foods prepared in the store, and foods made by small manufacturers.
Look for additives or problem ingredients. If it has high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oils, put it back on the shelf. Search for any “suspect” additives.
Look for ingredients that don’t agree with you. Identify food ingredients you are sensitive or react to, such as gluten, eggs, dairy, tree nuts, or peanuts. Be vigilant about reading labels, as these ingredients are often “hidden” in foods you least suspect. The labeling of common allergens is not always clear or helpful and there have been recent recommendations to improve this for consumers as in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act 2004. (See www.celiac.com for lists of gluten containing foods.)
Investigate unfamiliar ingredients. Investigate or use an Internet search engine to find a credible source for any unfamiliar ingredients on the label before you buy such as carmine, quorn, diacylglycerol, etc. Credible internet sources tend to be on government or educational sites ending in “.gov” or “.edu” rather than “com.”
Discover if any “functional food ingredients” are being added to the food product, such as live active cultures, beta-glucan (a viscous fiber), or plant sterols. Though they may be helpful, more often than not, they are “window dressing” present in small amounts, and with minimal value, except to the marketing department of the manufacturer. Examples of this include live active cultures added to high sugar, high fat yogurts or vitamins and minerals added to gum balls. In other words, it’s best to get healthful, functional food ingredients from their whole food sources, rather than as additives to otherwise nutritionally depraved foods.
Would your great-grandmother have served this food? Finally, before you analyze the numbers, ask yourself if this food could have been served at your great-grandmother’s table. She only served real food.
Thoughts about the article or the Daniel Plan? Please share!
Until next time…
Look good, feel good, do good