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Female Adult Reading the Nutrition Label of a Food Item

Source: FatCamera / Getty

 

For many years I was vegetarian, and even vegan for a little bit. I made the mistake of thinking that was a healthier lifestyle for me without doing any of the research behind what that meant. Being a vegetarian or vegan does not always mean you are healthy. Ideally, it means you are consuming a plant-based diet based on whole, natural foods. Packaged foods, if any, should be kept to a minimum. Do not make the mistake of converting to a “healthier” junk food diet. Many vegetarians are overweight and unhealthy. That’s because there are some REALLY good vegan cookies and gluten-free snacks!! That will not help you with any health improvement or weight loss. Meat-free “meats” have come a long way and there are some really good ones out there, just make sure you read the ingredient list. Replacing good quality meats with a box of chemicals is not the way to better health. Don’t get me wrong…a plant-based diet is REALLY great, IF done right….and from experience, it rarely is. If you want to read an impressive study done ON humans showing the reversal of many diseases with plant-based foods, read ‘The China Study’. This is single-handedly the book that changed my views on food and the way the body can fight disease if fueled correctly. After my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I did some digging in to the importance of animal fats for the brain. My diet consists of roughly 20% GOOD quality animal protein and the rest is mainly veggies, and a little fruit. Ironically, I am NOT a fan of fruit. You can find the balance that works for you! My brain was much happier once I added a more balanced, less restrictive menu to my life!

Nutritional labeling was introduced by the US government to help consumers have a better idea of exactly what they’re eating so they can make more informed choices. Manufacturers, however, have refined the art of making a product look healthy when it may not be healthy at all. Just because it has an American Heart Association or FDA Approved label on it does not mean it’s good for you. READ THE INGREDIENTS!

Here are some of the specifics to watch for when reading labels. Ingredients are listed in descending order of the amounts used in a particular product. Many companies will use multiple versions of the same kind of ingredient in order to place those ingredients further down the list. This is especially true of sweeteners, as sometimes three or four different forms of refined sugar will be used in just a single product in order to avoid sugar being listed as an ingredient. Fats can be hidden. Be on the lookout for glycerin, mono and diglycerides. 

Beware of fat free products. Most fat free products contain so much sugar and unhealthy ingredients. Fat-free very rarely means healthy when it comes in packaged foods. Same goes for gluten-free. I do not have Celiac’s Disease, but I rarely eat grains. Our bodies are not really designed to break down high levels of gluten. It breaks down slowly and becomes like a sludge in our intestines. The intestinal villi get weighed down (people with Celiac’s don’t even HAVE these capabilities). Bread is high in sugar. Think of the caveman basics…did they have ovens to cook bread? Nope. Did they boil pasta? Nope. At the beginning of my personal health journey, the first thing I gave up was gluten and it was easily one of the best things I did for my body.

If you drink juice, make sure it is not from concentrate. Concentrated fruit juices have had most of the nutritive value depleted during processing, leaving empty calories and sugar. The regular consumption of fruit juice, even healthier fruit juices, is not recommended. The calories are very concentrated and studies show that consuming fruit juice does not reduce the consumption of foods. Water should be the first choice beverage always. Juice bars are super popular and I am not knocking them. I frequent one here once a week!! Fruit is good for us, but it is high in sugar. Vegetables are great for us, but remember that fruits and veg are still carbs. Some fruit juices can be a few hundred calories a glass and some smoothies can be close to a thousand calories! Just be mindful of the calories!

Don’t be fooled by endorsements from celebrities. Most of the time the endorsements are paid for one way or another and do not guarantee the quality of the product.  

Look at the number of servings and the size of each serving when choosing a food. Most people are not even aware of how many servings are in one bag of potato chips or one bag of pasta.

Read every label thoroughly and if you do not know what a particular ingredient is, consider putting the item back until you find out. There are thousands of chemicals in the food supply and more are added every year. It is impossible to know what all of them are, but if an ingredient does not sound like food, it may not be the best thing to put in your body! My rule of thumb has always been, and you can ask my kids, if you cannot pronounce it, it’s not going in my grocery cart. Take peanut butter for example. It should say peanuts and salt. That is it. No added oils and nothing hydrogenated! NEVER hydrogenated anything!! I’ll wait while you go read your jar…..

Take away tip: take the time to read the labels. Manufacturers are sneaky. Shop the periphery of the grocery store. The aisles just have packaged chemical temptations!