All packaged foods are not created equal. We want to empower you to become a savvy shopper and learn to read nutrition labels like a ninja!
So, flip that packaged product around and check out the nutrition label (required to be printed on all food sold in the United States)
To make the process of reading labels easier, remember the following rules:
- Less is More: The fewer ingredients the better the product. (Unless you are looking at a bottle of shortening – made from hydrogenated coconut or palm kernel oil. That is the bad stuff)
- Animal Ingredients: Avoid anything that contains animal ingredients (derived from meat, dairy, or egg).
- An easy trick for this is to look at the allergen warning. If a product contains dairy, egg, or other common allergens, like wheat, there will be a capitalized “CONTAINS:______” warning at the bottom of the nutritional fact panel
- These ingredients are generally hidden with names like casein (from dairy) lactose (from dairy) whey (from dairy), elastin, keratin, gelatin and many more. Refer to the graphic of animal ingredients for more information.
- Refined Grains: When buying bread, pasta, crackers or any grain-based product, avoid products made of refined grains. The best way to ensure this is to look for the words “whole”, “sprouted”, “cracked”, “stone-ground”, “sprouted” and “rolled”.
- If they are missing, chances are the product contains refined grains. If the label says “enriched” and “fortified” it is likely refined.
- Fats: Ensure that the product contains no trans fat, as well as no cholesterol.
- Added Sugar: There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. Some common names to look out for include dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.
- Avoid the artificial sweetener, Aspartame.
- Additives and Preservatives: Avoid foods with additives and preservatives, including sulfites.
- Names like sulfite/sulphite, bisulfite, metabisulfite, or hydrogen sulfite or sulfur dioxide. Also, keep an eye out for potassium bromate, monosodium glutamate hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, and sodium benzoate (a common preservative often found in prepared salad dressings, juices, etc)
- Artificial colors: Yellow No. 5, Red Dye No. 2, Blue #1 and Blue #2, and Red Dye #40, Yellow #6 and Yellow Tartrazine
- Serving Size: Check the serving size so you can get a better sense of how large (or how small) one serving size is compared to its caloric density and nutrition value. Food manufacturers tend to divide contents into smaller sizes to make the numbers look healthier.
- Fiber: Try to choose foods with plenty of fiber (at least 2-3 grams per serving).
- Oil: Oil is a refined food, so try to limit that as much as possible.
If you remember only one thing for today: Packaged foods can be great when you are in a rush or too tired to cook, but learn to spot the good from the bad by choosing foods with minimal ingredients, additives, sugars, preservatives, refined grains, fats, oils, colors, and last but not the least, ingredients derived from animals.