When you are grocery shopping for a family, sometimes it is nice to find a few pre-packaged items that may make life a little easier. Over the past few years, I have learned though, to be very careful to avoid the “booby trap” of marketing on packages.
Too many items in a package now say things like “Gluten free” “Paleo” “Paleo friendly” “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” or “All Natural.” All of those words make the package seem more enticing and even, maybe, healthy.
How can you tell if what is in the package is actually healthy? In the end here, we want something that makes our life a little easier, not sick, tired or wasting money.. Here are 4 tips on how to read a food label to help keep you healthy and money saved.
1.What’s in a name?
Review what the item is called. You will want to verify that the name makes sense with the ingredients when you get there. Does the gluten free “Blueberry Bar” actually have blueberries in it?
Look specifically for the green labels USDA Organic and NON GMO Verified. Those labels are regulated and mean that the product has minimal pesticides and does not have genetically modified organisms. But in a package that only needs to be anywhere for 70-95% unless it says “100% Organic.”
If you have an allergy to gluten, look for the “GF.”
Mostly ignore anything else like “paleo”, “no high fructose corn syrup”, or “All natural” because those labels aren’t regulated and it likely means there is hidden sugars in the ingredients.
2. What’s the secret recipe?
This is the ingredients. They are listed from the most abundant to the least abundant. Does the “blueberry bar” actually have blueberry in the first few ingredients? It should in my opinion to have the name “blueberry bar.”
Look for sweeteners. Often an item with the label “no high fructose corn syrup” usually has another sweetener added. And just because it says organic on the front, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have sugar. It may actually have Organic sugar, which is the same as regular sugar minus the pesticides.
Can you pronounce the ingredients? If you can’t say it, you can’t recognize it and neither can your body. I look for whole ingredients and are very careful if there is something else. Things like Guar Gum, Gluten, Carageenan are additives to bind things together and tend to have adverse health outcomes associated with them.
How many ingredients are there? The more ingredients there are, the less nutrition available. Generally I like less than 10 ingredients, but prefer less than 5.
3. Where are the Nutrition Facts?
This is usually the table on the back or side of the container. This is where you will find the serving size, number per container and the total calories/serving based on the % Daily value. It will include the macronutrient ratios for Fat, Carbohydrates and Protein per serving.
I focus primarily on Total Carbs, especially sugars. The grams of sugar for me need to be less than 10g/serving, but ideally 0g. If this number doesn’t make sense, then I look at the ingredients again. Sometimes, you have carbs but no sugar because it is naturally occurring within the ingredients.
I avoid calorie counting personally, but if you need to for your goals, this is where you will find it.
4. What’s the date?
Products to by are one’s that actually have expiration even in a package. The longer it will survive on the shelf, the less nutrients it has and the more likelihood of it being nutrient depleting.
You want the product to be shelf stable, but not for eternity.
In the end, shopping for whole food products that expire in 3-10 days is the most nutritious way to eat, but it isn’t always practical 100% of the time. When choosing packages, just be clear on what you are spending your money on.
There are products in containers that are worth your time and money. I have a list of some of them that I use under the “How to SOAR” tab - We Recommend.
Making a habit of reading labels is initially time consuming, but very eye opening. It gets much more efficient in time and you learn the marketing tricks quickly.
Knowledge is power and awareness is the key to health.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove ignorance to the marketing strategies of food companies.
Replace with reading labels on all products in a package.
Restore health and awareness.
Eat well. Move well. Sleep well. Thrive on.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.