Trusting the food industry today is almost as risky as trusting the Cookie Monster with a jar of cookies. 🍪 It’s unfortunate, but a big percentage of the companies that are responsible for the fuel that we put into our body today have everything BUT our best interest at heart. It seems like all they care about is:
1. Making the production of a product as cheap as possible, meaning they don’t use the best ingredients.
2. Making money by promoting the fad diets, and dietary myths that circulate our culture.
It’s sad, but more so scary because SO many people today don’t look at the ingredients, or even know how to read a nutrition label! You’d be surprised how many products on the market today only include a small amount of what they are selling you. Sometimes when you buy frozen chicken, you’re actually only getting like 30% chicken breast. The rest is water, soy, and sodium. Scary huh?! Do you see why it’s so important to take a look at that small white box in the back, even if you’re not dieting? The information is there for a reason.
Below I will be sharing some tips to help you understand nutrition labels a little bit better so you actually get what you’re paying for! And also so you understand how much of what you should be eating.
1. Calories aren’t the only thing that matter.
It seems that nowadays people look at the calorie number to determine whether a product is healthy or unhealthy. But this is completely wrong! Just because a food is calorie dense it does not mean it is unhealthy. In fact, some of the healthiest foods are extremely high in calories, we just need to learn how to consume them better! Snacks should be in between 130-250 calories, and meals in between 300-600 calories (I’m generalizing – this depends greatly on the person and their daily energy expenditure!) Another thing that is very important about calorie dense foods is that they keep you satisfied longer so you don’t find yourself having those mid-day or late night binges!
2. Read the serving size!
Remember what I said about the food industry not having our best interest? This is a great example! They will often slap on a calorie number on the front part of a food package making the consumer think it’s “50 Calories” for the whole bag. But once you read the nutrition label it says there are 3+ servings in the bag meaning that might only be for 1/4 or worse 1/10th of the bag. So be careful and make sure that you stick to the serving size if you want to keep portions under control.
3. Check the macronutrients!
Macronutrients are what make up a food and their calorie content. They are fats, carbs (fibre and sugar fall under here), and protein. Most foods are dominant in one macronutrient; for example nuts are higher in fats so they are considered a fat. Chicken is high in protein which is why it is considered a protein. Rice is higher in carbs which is why it’s considered a carb, and so on! Make sure that when you are buying a food that reads “HIGH IN PROTEIN!” That the protein content is actually high. If the carbs are higher than the protein… stick to your chicken, or tofu.
4. Understand the Ingredient list!
If an ingredient list looks more like a never ending paragraph… put it down. Especially if you can’t even pronounce half the words on that list! The shorter and simpler the list, the better! Also, the first few ingredients on a list is what that food is mostly composed of. If you are buying a granola bar and the first three ingredients end with “ose” that means whatever you are holding in your hands is composed of different types of sugars – which doesn’t seem quite right if you wanted to eat a GRANOLA bar, right? So beware for those first ingredients and the strange words ending in “ose” (sucrose, dextrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose) because they are just different codes to trick you into consuming added sugars. Also look for anything with the word “cane,” “nectar,” or “syrup.”
5. Just because it’s FREE, it doesn’t mean you should take it!
Sugar “FREE” and Fat “FREE” are extremely popular phrases in the food industry and diet world. But it doesn’t always mean it’s best. Sometimes products that claim to be sugar free are just looking for a way to trick the consumer by not specifying what kind of sugar! So it could be free from refined sugars but still contain other type of sweeteners. OR if it is sugar free, it is most likely filled with all kinds of artificial sweeteners. These are okay in moderation BUT they do have an effect on your health in the long run, especially your gut health because our body was not designed to digest chemicals. A lot of people don’t respond well to sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol which are a type of artificial sweetener that can be found in gum and other SF products. So have them in moderation and if you do opt for calorie free sweeteners, stick to stevia or monk fruit extract. As far as fat free or low fat goes, beware that in order to remove this ingredient manufacturers have to replace it with either a lot of sugar, salt, or other artificial flavours. In most cases you’re better off having the full-fat version. After all, some fats are good for you. Just be ware of trans fat foods, limit saturated fats, look to the ingredients in regards to polyunsaturated fats, and increase monounsaturated fats, which are the healthy fats.
6. Other things to keep an eye on!
Hydrogenated oils (trans fat) aren’t something you want to see in your ingredient list. They are used to extend shelf life, add texture, save money, etc but can lead to health issues in the long run. Same with vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, palm, soy, and corn oil as they are high in the inflammatory fat omega 6 and low in the anti inflammatory fat omega 3. This can throw off the ratio and result in fat gain! Remember, sodium is not the enemy. The daily intake depends on the person, but a food should never exceed 1,000mcg per serving. And also, fiber is your friend.
Lastly, BALANCE and MODERATION are the most important ingredients in all diets! To be in good health you don’t have to restrict yourself from foods that may contain things that aren’t so great for your body. We all know how amazing Oreos or even a Twinkie can taste sometimes! You can make a healthier alternative but if you want to have the real thing, DO IT. Just don’t abuse it.