With all the pre-packaged foods readily available to us, it’s becoming more and more important to know how to correctly read food labels. By understanding the information being provided, you can learn how to avoid extra calories, and unwanted ingredients. In this article we’re going to focus on the ingredients listed in our food.
Read The Ingredients!
Typically underneath or next to the nutritional facts box you’ll have a list of your product’s ingredients. The first five ingredients listed are going to be the ingredients that are used in the largest quantities.
So if you’re trying to avoid certain foods, like salt, this is an easy way to see at a glance how important of a role salt would play in your food.
Below is an example of a label from flour tortillas. In this listing, the capitalized items are the main ingredients.
Ingredients: ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (wheat flour, malted barley, ferrous sulfate, niacin, thiamine monoitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), WATER, VEGETABLE OIL (may contain soybean, cottonseed or palm oils), MARGARINE, LEAVENING (corn starch, sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, rice flour, monocalcium phosphate), SALT, CALCIUM PROPIONATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE, GUAR GUM, FUMERIC ACID, L-CYSTEINE.
You’ll notice that after several (capitalized) main ingredients there are parentheses with more ingredients listed. The items in the parentheses are what your main ingredient is made of.
For allergy purposes, at the end of your ingredients you’ll see the “Contains ” section. In the case of our tortillas you’ll see “Contains: Wheat”. Now those who have a wheat allergen know to stay away without having to read through all the ingredients.
Which ingredients are good, and which are bad?
If you’re trying to eat clean, an easy rule of thumb to remember is that if you can’t pronounce or understand an ingredient, then you’re better off not buying the product (which would mean this version of tortillas are out!) Another rule that many follow is if a product has more than ten ingredients listed, you might want to steer clear.
Some of the more common undesirable ingredients to look out for are:
- Hydrogenated Oils and Partially Hydrogenated Oils (hello belly fat!)
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- diglycerides (often seen together as Mono and Diglycerides, a non-labeled trans fat)
- Soybean Oil (and soy in general)
- Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate (added to meat)
- Brominated Vegetable Oil (aka: BVO…just avoid all refined veggie oils)
- Benzoate Preservatives (which are: BHT, BHA, TBHQ -used for freshness)
- MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
- Artificial Colorings (they’ll read something like: Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1)
- Artificial Flavorings
- Artificial Sweeteners
Also, be aware of generic listing such as “natural flavors”. I recently learned that a “natural flavor” ingredient in some hard candy is beaver anal secretions (no need to adjust your screen – you read that correctly)! I’m sorry, but even though that’s “natural”, I don’t want to be eating it! So I prefer to have EVERYTHING that I’m eating spelled out for me.
And this post reminds us of some foods we should always want to consume! The great thing about fruits and vegetables is that what you see is what you get – and what you get is all natural, all healthy nutritious and delicious protein and energy!