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How to Read Food and Nutrition Labels

We can’t buy whole fruits, meats and veggies allllllll the time – I get it. It’s a lot more work and something we should definitely strive for, but I understand the convenience of already made nut milk and chocolate bars. Who can go through life without chocolate?! Anyway – I wanted to share the things I’m looking for in an ingredient list and also shed some light on the hidden chemicals and sugars.

The Ingredient List

The ingredient list is the most important to me. If the ingredients aren’t on point – I’m not buying it so why waste time looking at the nutrition label also? Ingredients are listed in a specific order, the very first item makes up the majority of the product. Keep this in mind.

The Actual Ingredients

  1. Sugars are disguised in many different word variations. Sugars are added to packaged foods to make us keep coming back for more, even the most unsuspecting ones.
    1. Here are a few: 
      1. Dextrose.
      2. Fructose.
      3. Galactose.
      4. Glucose.
      5. Lactose.
      6. Maltose.
      7. Sucrose.
  2. Vegetable Oils are used in so so SO many products where it’s completely unnecessary or when it can easily be replaced with quality olive oil. Unsaturated fats in vegetable and canola oils oxidize in your body and cause inflammation in your tissue. This also effects plaque in your blood vessels making you more at risk for heart attack.
    1. What Are They?
      1. soybean oil.
      2. corn oil.
      3. cottonseed oil.
      4. sunflower oil.
      5. peanut oil.
      6. rice bran oil.
      7. Palm oil.
    2. Which Ones Should I Buy?
      1. Avocado Oil
      2. Coconut Oil
      3. Quality Olive Oil – Click here for how to find good olive oil
  3. Natural Flavors – yes, technically these are made from real foods. They’re derived from essential oils, essences, extratives, protein hydrolysate, the list goes on…These are added because in the process of making these packaged foods, the actual natural flavor is lost. Even though these ‘natural flavors’ are made with ‘real’ things, they’re no different than artificial flavors that are made with non-food sources (WHAT) because they’re both deemed ‘safe’ to consume by the FDA. *eye roll*
  4. Gums – I’m sure you’ve seen them before, xanthan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum. These are typically used as thickeners for sauces, milks, and ice creams (especially in the non-dairy world). While they’re not technically the worst for you, they could cause digestive issues and I would try to avoid them.

There are only two things I look at on the actual nutrition label: sugar & sodium. When buying things like flavored yogurts or hot sauces, even if they have whole ingredients in them, I still don’t want them to be too high in these two categories. This is just a personal preference and by no means am I a doctor or anyone that should be telling you what to do. Since I get asked a lot – I decided I’d share. Typically, anything that has more than 10g of sugar in 1 serving is a no-go for me. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg  of sodium per day. Most of the sodium that American’s consume comes from packaged and restaurant foods, obviously.

Quick Tip About Salt: Not all salt is created equal.  “Table Salt” like kosher salt, or iodized salt is highly refined, meaning it’s ground up to be so small that all of its minerals have been removed. This also can cause the salt to clump, which is why there are things called “anti-caking” agents added to it (yay more chemicals). This salt is 97% sodium chloride.

Sea Salt – Also mostly sodium chloride, but usually retains trace minerals like iron, zinc, and potassium. Depending on the processing procedure, we’re getting closer to nature with this one.

Himalayan Pink Salt – This salt is mined for and also retains it’s minerals and is actually lower in sodium than the other salts.

Along with chemical names I can’t pronounce or recognize, these are the main things I look at on an ingredient list. If it has any of these items, 99% of the time, I don’t buy it. You’re going to be so surprised once you start looking at the ingredient list of ‘fresh’ salsa’s, almond milks and your favorite chocolate chips. These are small steps you can take to truly benefit your health in a HUGE way, short term and long term.

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