Breaking Down Food Ingredients on Nutrition Labels
If you’re not used to reading the ingredients list on a nutrition label, they might look like hieroglyphics. Life would be so much simpler if the only labels on food said either “good” or “bad,” but that’s only in fantasyland where calories don’t matter and exercise consists of changing the channel. If only!
A good general rule of thumb when it comes to ingredients is: less is better. If you can’t pronounce something on a label, you probably don’t want it in your body. The good thing about eating whole, organic foods is you don’t have to worry about a lot of crud, in the form of pesticides and artificial additives, making its way into your food.
In general, try to avoid these ingredients that usually lurk in a lot of packaged foods:
- Aspartame, saccharin & acesulfame-k
These artificial sweeteners have been linked to a risk in cancer.
- BHA and BHT
These chemicals are often added to food to preserve fats and have been linked to tumor growth in animals.
- High fructose corn syrup
Research has yielded conflicting results as to whether high fructose corn syrup is linked to obesity, but it's best to limit your intake.
- Sodium nitrates/nitrite
These preservatives are used with a lot of processed meats. The jury is still out as to whether they are carcinogens, but they have been shown to inhibit botulism.
- Trans fat
Also known as “partially hydrogenated oil,” trans fats have been shown to raise your bad cholesterol and increase chance of heart disease.
This is not an exhaustive list! There are so many gross things added to our foods, which really makes me more adamant for sticking to organic foods. For a list of all food additives, what they mean and which ones should definitely be avoided, check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list here.
Other things to watch for:
- Order of ingredients – The ingredients listed on a food label are listed in order of weight, so if sugar appears first on the list, that means there is more sugar in the food than anything else!
- Fortified, or enriched (usually followed by “flour”) – This means that many valuable nutrients were stripped from the product and vitamins and minerals then added back to the product to make up for it.
- Sugar-free, fat-free – This usually means artificial ingredients have been added to make up for what the food is “free” of. This does not mean the food is low in calories or even slightly healthy.
- Fruit drinks – This means there might be little to no real fruit juice and usually amounts to a lot of added sugars. Items that list “100% fruit juice” are great alternatives.
Resources on Reading Nutritional Labels/Additives
Resources on Benefits to Eating Organic
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