Everyone wants to be healthy - you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t aspire to good health. As a result, health is extremely marketable and companies will do just about anything to convince us their product will make us feel and look good.
Unfortunately, many food items are not as healthy as they appear at first glance. Thus, it often takes a careful inspection of an ingredients list to determine authenticity of packaging claims. But to many, deciphering an ingredient list can be daunting. Here’s a quick breakdown of how to read food labels and what to avoid.
Do a quick scan of the ingredient list
- Always read the first three ingredients - these make up the majority of the food content.
- If a product has a long list of ingredients it’s probably highly processed and swimming in artificial additives, especially if you don’t recognize the majority of the words.
- Fat and calorie content don’t mean much on the health front, so check out the vitamins, sugar, and sodium content instead. However, pay attention to the serving sizes and do the math - you don’t want to eat a whole box of crackers in one sitting and realize it was meant to feed 8 people!
Beware of label padding
- Companies will often put buzz-words on their packaging to draw you in, so be skeptical of popular phrases like: “cancer fighting,” “sugar free,” “trans fat free,” “whole grain,” “gluten free,” and “free range.”
- Just because a food contains one healthy ingredient doesn’t mean the entire product is good for you. Current trendy ingredients include: green tea, flaxseed, ginseng, and stevia.
- Organic does not necessarily mean a product is nutritious. Be aware of organic foods loaded with sugar, salt, and/or oil.
- Don’t be fooled by the words “natural” or “no artificial ingredients” - there are no regulations on these phrases, so they don’t mean much on the health front.
- Find brands that you can trust and stick to their line of products - when they say they’re “all natural” you’ll know they mean it.
The cheap stuff is cheap for a reason
If some foods are significantly less expensive than others, the companies behind them are probably cutting corners somehow. Take a moment to compare ingredient lists between two products or brands and you’ll find the difference - a nutritious ingredient may be left out, or it may be loaded with artificial junk. Food that is organic, made/grown locally, preservative-free, unprocessed (or raw), and/or fair-trade will often have a premium price, but it’s worth it.
Choose where you shop wisely
Get to know the staff at a market and ask questions about their products. Co-Ops are a great place to find high quality and truly healthy food.
Buy the basics
If a product can sit on a shelf for weeks, that's a great sign that it is probably full of preservatives, additives and more to give it an eternal shelf life. Fresh produce in its natural, raw form is always the best choice. Instead of buying something pre-made, try to find some time to make it from scratch - your body will thank you.
Image Credit: el_ramon