How to Read Food Labels

There is a lot of confusion around labels, and what is actually good for you. We went through a whole low fat craze, which actually in turn made people more fat!! Now we see many labels making claims…like high fibre, low sodium. The problem is, we need to be label savvy as a lot of this is great marketing. They replace one bad thing with another and trick us into thinking the product is good for us.

So, here is what to look for…

Serving Size

On the nutritional facts, there will be a serving size listed. For cereal or grains it might say 1/2cup, for bars it might say 1. This is important to note, as most of the higher calorie items are 2 cookies, or 10chips.  This isn’t a lot of food for this many calories, which is why these foods must be limited. They are called empty calories, meaning they hold very little nutrition for their caloric punch

Fats

Fats are a very confusing topic for most people. I still get many people in my office that are afraid to eat things like nuts or avocado for fear of getting fat.

These good fats actually help your body to burn weight…not put it on.

The inflammatory or toxic fats are the ones we want to reduce, but we need to increase our consumption of the good fats.

Fats to Avoid – Many processed foods, will also contain processed fats. These are fats that help to add flavour and stabilize the shelf life of the food.  We want to avoid the following fats as much as possible – hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated fats. We want to greatly limit things like vegetable oil, corn oil or soybean oil as most of the time they are highly processed. So, if you see a product that claims to be high in fibre, but also has these fats in it…this is not something that you should be eating every day

Fats to include – things like nuts and seeds (except peanuts), avocado, olive oil, hemp seeds/oil, flax seeds/oil, olives, fish. These products contain the good fats, that will help us with cardiovascular function, weight loss and management, skin health, brain health and much more.

Sugar

Many of the processed foods will replace fats for sugar, or they add sugar to compensate for the increase in fibre (to still allow the product to taste great). White sugar is very inflammatory in the body and in increased quantities contributes to lowered immune system, weight gain and insulin resistance. When looking at a product it is important to make sure to look at the amount of sugar per serving as well as the type of sugar used.  Healthy products will use less than 9g of sugar per serving.

Healthy sugars to look for are things like brown rice syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, dates, dried fruit, organic cane sugar.

Sometimes when you look at some of the natural bars you will see that they have more sugar in them than 9g/serving.  If they are more, but they contain the natural sugars as oppose to white sugar, they are okay to consume. Lara bars are a good example of this

Sodium

Don’t be fooled…even some of the soups in the health food section of the grocery store contain more sodium than they should. Sodium in excess quantities can cause problems with water retention and blood pressure. It is advised to keep your daily sodium intake to 2400mg, with an individual product being around 200mg. Most of the convenience food like frozen dinners and packaged soups can contain up to 700-900mg of sodium per serving.  Therefore it is best to cook your own food, or make sure that what you are eating on a consistent basis is not too high in sodium.  Celtic sea salt is not processed, and the trace minerals are not stripped like in regular table salt. Therefore it does not have the same effect of blood pressure and water retention. If you are going to use salt, you can use sea salt sparingly, but also try to find other ways to spice your food like lemon juice or herbs.

Having the ability to be able to understand labels, will help keep you and your family healthy.

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