Reading the labels of foods that you are buying is key to knowing what you are putting into your body. The best things to eat are those without labels namely fresh produce, and specifically non starchy vegetables. However, if you are purchasing foods with labels, let’s take a look at what to look for in a food label.
MICRONUTRIENTS & sugar
Of importance is the serving size, so be sure to pay attention to this information. Calories are often used for those wanting to lose weight – calories in, calories out – though this is something that most health professionals do not find of importance.
In the total fat category, there is saturated fat, trans fat, and depending on the product, there could be unsaturated fats – monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. In our diet, fat is good! In fact, the brain is made up of mainly fat, which we need for many functions along with our memory. Saturated fat is questionable depending on the source. Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms and are solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fats are animal products, plant based oils such as coconut oil, dairy products, processed meats and the fats found in processed foods. The source makes all of the difference when it comes to saturated fats.
Trans fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil forming hydrogenated oils that become solid at room temperature. This allows foods to have a longer shelf life, but has terrible implications on human health, including heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Trans fat is always bad – any product with trans fat in it should be avoided.
In the Unsaturated fat category, there is monounsaturated, which becomes liquid at room temperature. Examples of this would be olive oil and canola oil. Olive oil is considered a healthy unsaturated fat, while canola oil is considered inflammatory (more on canola below). Polyunsaturated fat are liquid at room temperature and these include most of your vegetable oils including corn, sunflower and safflower, all of which are inflammatory. Thus, it is important to see what kind of fat is in a product, and where it is coming from.
Most of our carbohydrates should come from non-starchy vegetables, so a lower carbohydrate number is better. Under carbohydrates, more importantly, is sugar. The grams of sugar should be at the lower end. Children should only be eating 25g of added sugars per day. Sugar should not be listed as one of the first ingredients, and can also be found under many other names than just sugar.
FOOD IS LISTED IN ORDER BY AMOUNT
Foods are listed in the order of amount used. For instance, in the label below, the food is mostly made out of dehydrated potatoes, then modified food starch, next corn oil, etc.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
One thing to look out for at the bottom of a label is “PARTIALLY PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGINEERING.” This means that changes were affected into the DNA of the food, and it should be viewed as a huge red flag. Additionally, get to know your top GMO crops – corn and soy are the most genetically modified crops in the United States. Anything that is derived from corn or soy that does not say Non-GMO is another red flag. Be sure to read labels carefully and get to know what ingredients are harmful. If you can’t pronounce it or don’t know what it is, it is best to put back on the shelf!
Below is a great list from Food Babe of ingredients to avoid on a food label. We will focus on a few to start with.
Take a look at this group of five additives and you can start looking for them when you are at the store.
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
BHA is a synthetic preservative that is a known carcinogen to animals. Find this is processed foods and meats, canned soup and refried beans, pasta sauce and even gum.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) – E321
BHT is a also a synthetic preservative that has also been linked to cancer in animal studies. BHT has also been shown to affect leptin, the satiety hormone, signaling which can contribute to overeating and obesity. BHT is found in packaged foods and mixes, cereal, and processed foods.
Canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant. It gets its name from “Canadian Oil.” It is an extremely refined cooking oil, and it’s the process of extracting it includes high heat and the toxic neurotoxin, hexane, of which the residues are found in the oil. Canola oil is 90% GMO and has also been found to contain trans fats. Canola oil is hard to avoid, so look out! Even Whole Foods still uses canola oil in many of their products. You can find it in processed foods, boxed mixes, baked goods, desserts, dressings, and sauces.
Dextrose is a form of sugar, usually made from GMO corn. You can find it in processed foods and artificial sweeteners.
Maltodextrin is a starch that has been shown to affect gut bacteria. While it is also typically derived from GMO corn, it is also a hidden form of MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), an excitotoxin. Excitotoxins are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases – they are responsible for exciting brain cells to death. You can find Maltodextrin in processed foods.
What ingredients do you specifically avoid in foods? Do you only buy foods with a certain number of ingredients?