A lot of people use labels to count calories, but no matter how many calories or grams of protein are in a food, if your food is made of synthetic, artificial ingredients, your body will have a hard time absorbing those nutrients. Too many people are counting calories, and not enough people are counting ingredients (But let’s not get too crazy about that either). Filling up on real food feels better and is healthier than restrictive eating, so look at the ingredients – not the calories! Here’s three simple tips to help you make the most of the labels on your food, and understand the tricky ways food companies use labels to confuse consumers.
Quick Tip # 1 – Eat food without labels
This is your safest bet! The less ingredients the better! Think about fresh produce – apples, cucumbers, sweet potatoes – none of these come with labels.
Quick Tip #2 – The fewer ingredients the better
Why do we always have to complicate things?? I’ve seen some “healthy” protein bars with over 100 ingredients! And no, I didn’t take the time to count all of them …. my husband did. Haha. Most of the food we use has no more than 2 or 3 ingredients. It’s 100% possible to eat this way – just stick to the outside of the grocery stores instead of meandering down the aisles – as that is where most of the junk food is kept. If a typical meal is vegetables + meat, then eating food with less ingredients is fairly easy.
Quick Tips #3 – Learn about the ingredients
There’s the old adage that if we can’t pronounce something, we shouldn’t eat it, or that if we are unfamiliar with something, we should stay away from it. I personally don’t know if that’s always true. There’s been many times I have stayed away from a specific foods because I didn’t recognize the ingredients – just to find out later that there was nothing wrong with what I was avoiding. I prefer to play it safe, but we do have a responsibility to learn about our food. Sometimes big long words do not necessarily mean we need to stay away from them – but it is important to learn about ingredients we are unfamiliar with. The most commonly confused ingredients are usually a form of sugar or fat. To become familiar with the different names for these ingredients make sure to check out the blood sugar and fatty balance sections. These sections go into much more detail about sugars and fats, and include printable guides to make your life easier!
The ingredient list, lists out the ingredients by order of weight – not by percentage of calories. Some companies divide the total amount of added sugars into three or four different sugar names instead of using just one type of sugar, companies are able drop their added sugars further down the list.
For example, if a manufacturer wants to sweeten up a certain brand of crackers, it can either do this using 15 grams of “sugar” or, 5 grams of “agave nectar,” 5 grams of “brown sugar” and 5 grams of “glucose”. This allows manufacturers to place these ingredients lower down on their products’ lists, making us believe that the amount of sugar in the product is smaller than it is.
For Example: The Chocolate Chip Bars ingredient list below shows multiple types of sugar in different forms. Take note of where they are listed in the ingredient list. Tricky right?
Ingredients: Granola (whole grain oats, brown sugar, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt, malted barley extract), whole grain rolled wheat, soybean oil, dried coconut, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, caramel color, nonfat dry milk), corn syrup, semisweet chocolate chips, brown rice crisp, sunflower oil, oligofructose, polydextrose, corn syrup solids, glycerin. Contains 2 percent or less of water, invert sugar, salt, molasses, sucralose, natural and artificial flavor, BHT, citric acid
Technically Granola with it’s whole grain oats is the first ingredient, but sugar is listed twice in granola, and corn syrup is the second ingredient. If we were to add those all up, the sugar would probably outweigh those whole grain oats.
Names for sugar
Anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar. Other types of sugar you might commonly see on ingredient lists are fructose, lactose and maltose. Fructose is sugar derived from fruit and vegetables; lactose is milk sugar; and maltose is sugar that comes from grain. Some less common names are carbitol, concentrated fruit juice, corn sweetener, diglycerides, disaccharides, evaporated cane juice, erythritol, Florida crystals, fructooligosaccharides, galactose, glucitol, glucoamine, hexitol, inversol, isomalt, maltodextrin, malted barley, malts, mannitol, nectars, pentose, raisin syrup, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, rice syrup solids, sorbitol, sorghum, sucanat, sucanet, xylitol and zylose.
Food manufacturers can be tricky with how they label their foods. Trans fats is currently banned by the FDA, but food manufacturers are still in the process of phasing out this problematic fat. In order to avoid these fats, it’s important to know how to read the label. Authority Nutrition explains the problem with labeling trans fats:
“In the US, manufacturers can label their products “trans fat free” as long as there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving.To make sure you’re avoiding trans fats, read labels. Don’t eat foods that have the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredients list. Unfortunately, reading labels isn’t enough in all cases. Some processed foods (like regular vegetable oils) can contain trans fats, without any indication on the label or ingredients list.
One US study that analyzed store-bought soybean and canola oils found that 0.56% to 4.2% of the fats were trans fats, without any indication on the packaging.
In order to avoid trans fats, the best thing you can do is eliminate processed foods from your diet.”