For this installment, I want to focus on label reading. I am not a dietician but I am well read on the subject and I have extensive “on the job training”. I initially got a lot of my insight from my husband but once food and nutrition became my passion, I relied on years of research and my good old common sense to help carve my path to feeding myself and my family. Much of what I have learned is that nutrition is really based on basic principles. It is not complicated, it is not confusing, it is not supported by scientific evidence or reasoning alone. It comes from the basic truths that have been in existence since the beginning of time. The subject of food is a perfect example.
Rather than focusing on the RDA’s, DV’s, grams, serving sizes, points, etc. let’s just keep it simple. Start focusing on the ingredient portion of the label. This is where you can really see the quality of the food (or lack thereof). There are several reasons for this: 1) the recommended values do not take into consideration age, gender, specific needs, etc. 2) if you focus on the fat % or grams, carbs, sugars, etc you could miss the dangerous ingredients. Low fat or low carb or low sugar does not = healthy!!!
Let’s look at this further using the low-fat craze as an example. It started over 20 years ago and where has it gotten us? Obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes are all higher than ever before! Apparently, it is not fat that makes us fat. More on this later but just know that there are good fats and bad fats…fats that heal and fats that kill. In fact, good fats actually help you burn fat. Knowing the difference is the key. Something that is low fat can still be loaded with sugar and refined carbohydrates. There is also a big difference when it comes to carbs. Something can be low-carb but be loaded with bad fats and additives/preservatives. No sugar or low-sugar usually means the presence of dangerous sugar substitutes (see the “don’t section).
We had a patient at the office who was diabetic and many the foods his diabetes counselor told him to eat did not do anything to improve his diabetes- they actually made it worse. Once he started reading labels differently and changing his diet an amazing thing happened. His diabetes started improving. Yes, it is possible to reverse disease! There is always hope and I think that is where a lot of people get off track. They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and tend to just accept wherever they are as the way it has to be. This is not true but I digress…
Anyway, here are some quick do’s and don’ts for label reading.
- Look for minimal ingredients (the less the better)
- Look for natural ingredients (stuff you can pronounce
- Try to buy more foods without any labels at all (i.e. fruits and veggies)
- Check every label on every single thing you buy
- Put items back that are man-made (if it doesn’t come from the ground or grown in a tree)
- Worry too much about fat grams, carb grams, and calories. The types of these things, as indicated on the label, are much more important. Your body can more efficiently and effectively digest and absorb naturally occurring foods!
- Don’t buy items with the following ingredients on the label: Monosodium Glutamate (also known as MSG, Hydrolyzed anything, Autolyzed anything), artificial sweeteners (sucralose/Splenda, aspartame/Nutrasweet, Equal, etc), hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated anything, refined flour, additives, colorings, preservatives, chemical names, etc. You get the idea!
This really helps bring what you are eating to light and gets you focused on making better choices. If I am every buying anything with a label, I reflexively look at the label. Honestly, over 75% of the time I put it right back on the shelf.
Happy Label Reading!