Do you read your food labels?
Have you ever heard the rule “don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce?” A hundred years ago, this wasn’t an issue. Today, with all the processed foods in the standard American diet (SAD), there are over 14,000 man-made chemicals added as preservatives, artificial sweeteners and colors to nearly every food item found on the inside aisle of the grocery stores. Even the produce aisle is contaminated with pesticides and herbicides.
Therein lies one of the main benefits of eating an organic, whole-food based diet. With organically produced food, be it fresh fruit and vegetables or meat and dairy products, you don’t have to worry about any unnatural chemical additives sneaking onto your dinner plate. You can find more and more organic foods these days, from local farmers markets, an expanding section at your local grocery store as well as natural health websites such as our own.
Unfortunately, many of those added chemicals and preservatives are what make processed foods, including fast foods, taste so darn good. So if you do decide to make the switch and enjoy the benefits of organic foods and the peace of mind, don’t be surprised if it takes your tastes buds a few days to adjust. On the flip side, organically produced food is typically so fresh and ripe, it provides a depth of flavor you may have never experienced before.
It’s important to read the label on anything you are going to put in your body, but what are you looking for on these labels? I’m sure you glance at the serving size, calories, fat content and maybe skim through the ingredient list. It can be a bit overwhelming.
We can't know about all 14,000 chemicals added to our foods. So, I’m going to give you a list of the top ten things that I try to avoid when choosing my packaged foods.
A Short Version for Sharing:
- Trans Fats. If the label reads "hydrogenated oils" or "partially hydrogenated oils," I would recommend looking for an alternative food. These are good indications that the product contains trans fat. Using trans fats in the manufacturing of foods helps foods have a longer shelf life. When it comes to fat, trans fat is considered by some professionals to be the worst type of fat. Unlike other fats, trans fat both raises your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your "good" (HDL) cholesterol. If possible, avoid foods that contain trans fat.
- Saturated Fats. While the total fat content on the label is important to read, the type of fat is where you really need to pay attention. Foods like avocados, almonds and olive oil are high in fat, but notice the type of fat: monounsaturated fats. These are good fats. The type of fat to avoid is saturated fat–-the type that clogs up those arteries! One often cited exception is coconut oil, which touts medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs), which some studies have shown may help in the process of excess calorie burning, and thus weight loss.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS has gotten a bad reputation as being worse than sugar, but that is not necessarily true. Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup are digested the same way in the body. Table sugar and HFCS are chemically very similar. The reason to avoid HFCS is simply excess sugar content, causing health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more.
- Sugars. Excess sugar is, plain and simple, not good for your body. Just like we mentioned for HFCS, it can cause many health complications. Be sure to look at the sugar content of foods before consuming and enjoy in moderation.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is a flavor enhancer commonly added to canned foods and processed meats. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that has a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, the use of it remains controversial. Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. The best way to keep yourself safe is to avoid foods containing MSG.
- Artificial Colorings. Blue 2, Yellow 5, Red 40. Science project or ingredient list? Artificial colorings do nothing good for the body. They are chemically composed and the best way to avoid them is by consuming natural foods, free of added artificial ingredients.
- Artificial Sweeteners. I’ll be honest, I’m as guilty as anyone in that I thoroughly enjoy a nice cold diet soda every once in a while. While research insconflicting on the effects of artificial sweeteners, there is something we know for sure: they do nothing positive for your body. What they can do is trick your body into thinking it's getting calories when it’s not and therefore triggering a desire to eat. Artificial sweeteners have been tied to excessive calorie consumption. It’s best to avoid them and choose a healthier option.
- Sodium. Sodium is necessary for your body to function, but in excess can cause extensive harm. The dietary guidelines suggest consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, or 1,500 mg in certain cases. Most Americans get well over the suggested amount. The first thing you can do is hide the salt shaker, which is usually full of "table salt," which most of you know shares little resemblece to healthy salts like Himalayan crystal salt. Adding salt to food while cooking or at the dinner table can be dangerous as most foods (processed foods to be more accurate) are already high in sodium. It is very important to look at the sodium content of your foods before adding more salt during preparation.
- Bleached. A pretty good rule when reading the ingredient list is to look for the word “whole” in the first couple ingredients. If your label reads “bleached flour” or “bleached white flour,” there is probably a better option for you. Consuming foods like brown rice instead of white, wheat pasta instead of regular or whole wheat bread instead of white will do you a world of good.
- Excessive and Unpronounceable Ingredients. List of ingredients seems quite excessive? Can’t pronounce half of them? It probably means that food is full of chemicals, artificial and processed ingredients. A short ingredient list that consists of ingredients that you recognize will be your best bet.
Food is fuel for your body. The best advice I can give you–eat fresh foods! A well-rounded diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products are going to provide you with the most nutritious, clean and healthful diet. When packaged food is necessary, read the label carefully.