by Donna Gates
Reading nutrition labels can be tricky, but is essential if you want to eat healthy and protect your health. Learn what to look for, and how to compare different food choices.
Did you know that the loopholes in FDA requirements for nutrition labeling allow the processed food industry to trick even the savviest consumer? That is, if you’re reading nutrition labels at all.
When it comes to reading nutrition labels on processed foods, studies show that most people either don’t pay attention to them, or don’t have the knowledge necessary to make use of them.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from health issues like: abdominal pain, food allergies, fatigue, candida, diabetes or obesity, reading nutrition labels as part of your clean eating lifestyle can go a long way toward renewed health.
Why “Nutrition Facts” Aren’t That Important
Most people reading nutrition labels have been programmed to think that the “nutrition facts” are the most important part. Especially for weight control.
This is the section that lists calories, fat grams, and the weights of macronutrients, sodium, fiber, and different vitamins and minerals on a product.
The good news is that when you follow clean eating principles, you don’t need to count calories, fat grams, protein grams or carb grams in order to control your weight and be healthy. That should make you pretty happy right there.
In this way, reading nutrition labels becomes less about the ratios and more about the ingredients in the foods you choose.
Health is in the Ingredients!
We’ve always emphasized that processed foods should be avoided because they contribute to numerous health issues and serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The reality is that even when you are doing your best, and taking steps to eat healthier, there are still times when you want to take short-cuts. And with so many health food stores selling prepared and processed foods, there are better choices today.
However, just because a food is labeled organic or “natural,” or is sold in your health food store, does not necessarily mean it is good for you.
Many examples abound of foods that have developed a reputation for being healthy, when in fact they are not. A few examples include some organic, whole grain cereals, energy bars, organic broths, soups, or “natural” salad dressings.
The only way you will know if a food is really healthy is by learning the hidden sources of unhealthy ingredients, and by carefully reading nutrition labelsto look for those ingredients.
Here’s What To Look For When Reading Nutrition Labels:
- Ingredients are required to be listed in order of weight. The first ingredient listed is the most predominant, and so on.
- Hidden Sugars: Sugar makes your blood highly acidic, and feeds candida (yeast overgrowth), which can wreak havoc on your health.
The problem is that most processed foods contain sugar in some form or another, but don’t list it as “sugar.”
These are only a few of the dozens of different names “sugar” has:
sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, malt, fructose, glucose, carbitol, mannitol, lactose, evaporated cane juice, or concentrated fruit juice.
- Beware of MSG: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) seems to be a staple in every processed food. It is used to enhance the flavor of processed foods that lack the real flavor of real foods.MSG has highly toxic effects, and you might be consuming it in one of its many disguises: glutamate, yeast extract, glutamic acid, hydrolyzed proteins, autolyzed yeast, natural beef flavoring, whey protein, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, soy sauce extract, natural flavoring, and anything that has “seasonings” in the ingredients.
- Gluten: Gluten is a difficult to digest protein found in typical grains that can cause celiac disease and many symptoms of digestive and immune distress.Many whole grains with wheat, barley, bran, rye, and oats, and the flours or cereals made from them, contain gluten.But since gluten is also added to many processed foods as a binder, starch or filler, it can be hidden in foods that are free of any of these grains in their ingredients.
Some examples of foods or ingredients that contain hidden gluten include: soy sauce, garlic salt, onion salt, some mustard powders, flavored teas and coffees, hydrolyzed proteins, colorings, flavorings, anything with msg, modified food starch, malt, or graham flour.
- Know Your Oils and Fats: The good news is that the media has made us all much more aware of the benefits of certain oils like olive oil, cod liver oil and fish oils. And by now everyone knows the hazards of trans fats found in margarines and processed foods.Unfortunately you may still be buying the wrong qualities of the so-called “good” oils.
Always look for healthy oils that say organic and unrefined. Even if it says cold-pressed, or expeller pressed, it can still be refined and will not be as good for you as the virgin unrefined options.Read the label carefully when you purchase a product with olive oil. If it says extra virgin that means that it is from the first pressing.
Take care because refined olive oil is often used in products that say simply say, olive oil. For example, Whole Foods Market uses this cheaper quality of olive oil in most of their prepared deli products, so beware.
Avoid canola oil, or soybean oil, used in many organic, “natural” salad dressings.
Be extremely aware of some processed foods making the claim “trans-fat free,” when in fact, reading the ingredients list clearly shows that some hydrogenated oils were used.
How does this happen?
The FDA allows food processors to make the claim “sugar-free”, or “trans-fat-free” if the serving size of a food has less than half a gram of these items.
Just remember, anything that has “hydrogenated” in the ingredients is bad for you!
- What exactly is “Natural Flavor”?
The word “natural” is often equated to healthy foods, but just because a label says natural does not mean that it’s healthy. In fact, there is no meaning in law or regulation around the word natural.The food processing industry knows that you are more likely to buy something that says it has “natural flavor” as opposed to “artificial flavor”. But the distinction between the two is actually quite arbitrary. Both natural and artificial flavors involve some laboratory processing and additives.So try to avoid “natural flavors” as much as possible.
- Can you pronounce it? It should go without saying that if you don’t know exactly what an ingredient is, or can’t even pronounce it, it’s probably not good for you!
All of this information can seem overwhelming at first, especially when food manufacturers have so many marketing tricks.
But just like any new skill, take it one step at a time. Reading ingredient lists is a great way to arm yourself with the kind of information that puts your health into your hands and you’ll be a pro before you know it.
When you consume truly wholesome, all-natural foods, and if you do decide to take short cuts every now and then (and who doesn’t?), you’ll know exactly what ingredients contribute to your best health!
About the author…
Donna Gates, a nutritional consultant, author and lecturer has helped thousands of people overcome candidiasis and other immune system disorders. Her book, The Body Ecology Diet, was written after years of research to find a cure for her own candida-related issues. If you or a loved one struggle with digestive or candida issues, be sure to learn more about the Body Ecology Core Program