Reading food labels can be very overwhelming and companies tend to use words like 'Organic' or 'All Natural' to make consumers think items are healthy; but in reality the item could be filled with high amounts of sodium, sugar, and fats. Front labels are often used to lure people into buying products and can be highly misleading.
To conclude our label reading series, I want to cover some basic words/phrases that you may see on labels and explain what it could actually mean.
Ingredients are listed by quantity from highest to lowest. Try looking for products that list whole foods as the first three ingredients and be skeptical of foods with long lists of ingredients.
Serving Sizes listed on packaging may be misleading and unrealistic. Manufacturers often list a much smaller amount than what most people consume in one setting.
Sugar goes by various names — many of which you may not recognize. These include cane sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, dextran, molasses, malt syrup, maltose, and evaporated cane juice.
Light. Light products are processed to reduce either calories or fat. Some products are simply watered down. Check carefully to see if anything has been added instead — like sugar.
Multigrain. This sounds very healthy but only means that a product contains more than one type of grain. These are most likely refined grains — unless the product is marked as whole grain.
Natural. This does not necessarily mean that the product resembles anything natural. It simply indicates that at one point the manufacturer worked with a natural source like apples or rice.
Organic. This label says very little about whether a product is healthy. For example, organic sugar is still sugar.
No added sugar. Some products are naturally high in sugar. The fact that they don't have added sugar doesn't mean they're healthy. Unhealthy sugar substitutes may also have been added.
Low-calorie. Low-calorie products have to have one-third fewer calories than the brand's original product. Yet, one brand's low-calorie version may have similar calories as another brand’s original.
Low-fat. This label usually means that the fat has been reduced at the cost of adding more sugar. Be very careful and read the ingredients list.
Low-carb. Recently, low-carb diets have been linked to improved health. Still, processed foods that are labeled low-carb are usually still processed junk foods, similar to processed low-fat foods.
Made with whole grains. The product may contain very little whole grains. Check the ingredients list — if whole grains aren't in the first three ingredients, the amount is negligible.
Fortified or enriched. This means that some nutrients have been added to the product. For example, vitamin D is often added to milk. Yet, just because something is fortified doesn’t make it healthy.
Gluten-free. Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. The product simply doesn't contain wheat, spelt, rye, or barley. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
Fruit-flavored. Many processed foods have a name that refers to a natural flavor, such as strawberry yogurt. However, the product may not contain any fruit — only chemicals designed to taste like fruit.
Zero trans fat. This phrase means "less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving." Thus, if serving sizes are misleadingly small, the product may still contain trans fat.
This is a lot of information to digest, so print this sheet out or bookmark it for later and refer back to it when you go to the grocery store.
The goal of this series is to not overwhelm you or make you feel like you need to make a change tomorrow.
The easiest way to implement what you've learned is by simply cutting, limiting or adding one item or behavior from/into your diet for 21-30 days! Once you've stayed consistent, you can then cut, limit, or add another item or behavior from/into your diet. This is a marathon, not a sprint! You don't need to get everything all at once.
As always, you can reach out to me with any questions via email: email@example.com
You got this!!