Don’t you feel like you need a degree in Biochemistry, or at least Nutritional Science, to understand food labels enough to just simply go grocery shopping? I hear you! And, the eating rules change all the time! Butter was out for awhile, a sad time. Now it’s back in, or at least sort of, depending on what you read, or what you hear on the news, or from your friends.
And oils! Whoa! I heard that seed oils are out. Then I read that olive oil is still very good for us. Olives are seeds. Hmmmmm. As for coconut oil, I have never liked the taste of coconut, so that popular, and healthy, oil is usually out for me. Except when we make Asian food.
I look for organic most of the time and GMO free. So, more research. Does Organic mean GMO free automatically? Can something that isn’t GMO free even be certified organic? Here’s your link for this topic. And then there is sugar….
I like things simple with less effort, less stress, and way fewer big decisions to make. So I have developed my own favorite way of reading food labels that sort of cuts to the chase. See what you think.
Food Labels – the Parts
There are only two parts to a food label:
- Nutrition Facts – This part starts with information on serving size and how many servings are in the box/package. Then it lists nutrition info per serving – calories, fats,cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbs including sugars and fiber, protein, and a few major vitamins. It ends with daily values based on a 2000 calorie diet. This section is usually found at the top of the label.
- Ingredients – Here is the info gold mine. Ingredients are listed from most present to least present in the food. If the first ingredient is potatoes then you know that potatoes are the largest ingredient. Down at the end of the list are the tiny bits of things, like spices, that are added to that food. Ingredients are usually at the bottom the label.
Personally, I get more of the information I want by starting with the Ingredients section. I want to know things like…
- which ingredients are organic and/or non GMO
- do any ingredients have names I can’t pronounce or come, from a factory (a deal breaker for me)
- how many ingredients grew in dirt or come from an animal (could be another deal breaker)
- does it contain any form of sugar added
- do the ingredients include any sugar substitutes
- what kind of the flour does it contain – whole grain or refined
- how many ingredients there are in all (fewer ingredients usually means a less mysterious food)
After I critique the Ingredients I might look at the Nutrition Facts to see mg of sodium, protein, and the kinds of fat. This might matter if you have medical issues in the family. We don’t count calories so that part is immaterial. Anyway, I figure that if I am worried about any of these things in the food I might just need to return the item to the shelf and head back over to the produce section.
Final Ingredients Tips
- Sugar = sugar. Most sugars end with the letters -ose. Sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose. All artificial sweeteners harm the body and some have turned out to be carcinogenic. Some people use things like Agave (very high in fructose), Stevia (much sweeter than sucrose), the sugar alcohols (do not contain alcohol but are nearly all made from corn). Honey, molasses, and maple syrup are not innocent, either. You can research all of these in depth on the internet to help you decide which ones, if any, you will feed to your children.
- Only whole grain flours say whole grain in the ingredients list. Anything else, such as enriched or unbleached flour, means nutritious parts have been removed in the processing which lowered food value to just about nothing.
- Products made in factories fail the food test. Michael Pollan so humorously calls them industrial novelties, or food like products!
Now you now how I use food labels, but you might use them differently when you shop for your family. Your comments are always welcome!
Life skill alert – Don’t forget to start teaching your children how to read food labels, too. They will love it!