Friday, July 27, 2012

Reading Labels

A crucial piece to optimizing your health is knowing what you're putting in your body. One of the places you can start is learning to read labels. In a perfect world, nothing we eat would have a label to begin with. While I believe that is something we should all strive for, it would be unrealistic to assume that everyone eats that way. So, here are some of the key pointers when looking at food labels so that you can be sure that what you're eating is REAL food and not laden with chemicals and preservatives - all of which can prolong and divert your healthful goals - whether those may be to lose weight, to regain or just maintain your health.

INGREDIENTS: The longer the list, the better off you are without it. Why? Because you probably can't pronounce half of the things on the list, which means you probably don't know what they are. If you don't know what something is, look it up and you'll be sure to not want to eat them after all. Knowing is half the battle!

I used to be addicted to chips. When I started getting serious about my health, that was the first thing to go. I don't think all chips need to be red-taped, but if their ingredients list looks something like this, you should think twice. This is not whole food.

Some ingredients to avoid:
Trans fat
High fructose corn syrup
Artificial sweeteners
Artificial colors (Red 40, Yellow 5, etc.)
Enriched flour
Textured soy
Hydrogenated oils
Autolyzed and hydrolyzed yeast extracts

So, what IS acceptable? Most likely that answer is going to be different for everyone, depending on your goals and preferences; whether you're a meat eater, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc. But I think there are a few universal things to look for.

SUGARS / SWEETENERS (<<click here for a list of sweeteners in disguise): Processed and refined sugars come in MANY shapes, sizes, names and disguises. Generally, I prefer raw honey, stevia and xylitol because those are the ones that I know to be less or not processed. I also know that there is still debate on some of those. If you can get your sweet fix from adding fresh fruit to your dishes instead, it's MUCH better and healthier for you. On a label though, I would look to see where "sugars" sit in the list. The further down they are, the less there is of it. Then I would check the grams. Always, less (or none) is best. 

This is my idea of a good looking label. These are from Flackers. Whole seed crackers; no added sugars or flours; no mysterious ingredients.

FLOURS / STARCHES: A lot of people ask what breads are best. Personally, I might have bread once every couple weeks. And when I do, I opt for 100% whole grain and if I can I choose sprouted (found at most health food stores). Ezekial is one of the best that I know of. Breads (and crackers) are commonly loaded with ingredients to avoid: enriched flours, high fructose corn syrup and other sugars. Here's a nice looking bread:

Reading the ingredients list is a perfect place to start learning about what's in your food and what you're putting in your body. The more you know, the bigger your desire becomes for whole, real, FRESH foods. And in turn, the better you will start to feel.

The closer a food is to the way Mother Nature made it, the better. 

If the Earth made it, eat it - if man made it, don't. 

Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have any questions or things you'd like to add.

Yours in Health,

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