Labels are lying: Why you should read food ingredients.
I need to preface this article by first saying that unhealthy foods can be part of a healthy diet. I am not demonising these ‘sometimes’ foods, how could I? I annihilated a greasy hamburger and chips last night and lived to tell the story.
Having said that, I’m a big fan of transparency. We all deserve to make informed choices - healthy or not.
The problem most of us face is that it’s not always easy to know what is and isn’t a healthy food product. Whole foods are simple; fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and lean meats – we know these things are good for us. But everything else? Bread, pasta, cereal, canned food, muesli bars, sauces, milk? Many of these foods contain unnecessary, unhealthy additives.
Healthy eating used to be so simple back in Ye’ Olde Tymes. Kids used to watch vegetables grow for fun and there was only one type of milk
To make a healthy choice, it helps if you’re fluent in the language of ‘product packaging’. It’s a language most people don’t speak. Your inability to understand this language gives the food industry the power to manipulate you into thinking some foods are better for you than they actually are.
It’s an incredibly useful skill to be able to decipher the gobbledygook that’s written on packages, and it will benefit your health considerably.
How do I know if a packaged food is good for me?
Ignore everything on the front of the package: the generic health claims, pictures of fresh fruits, wholesome farms and models wearing fitness clothes. Ignore.
The colours, fonts and descriptors such as “high-fibre”, “farm-fresh”, “oven-baked”, “macro”, and “healthy”. I’ve got two more accurate words for you: total bollocks.
Okay, I turn the box around. This product has 20g of carbs and 30g of sugar!! That’s a lot, right?
That’s the nutrition information panel you’re looking at. Ignore it. Food is far too complicated to be broken down into narrow components such as calories and macronutrients. There is so much more going on that we need to consider. There are very few examples that I would recommend looking at the nutrition information panel.
Example #1: If you have a specific condition that requires diet management, e.g. you may want to monitor your sodium intake if you have high blood pressure.
Example #2: If you’re trying to assess the healthiness of an oil. Preferably, look for an extra virgin oil that is high in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated, trans or saturated fats. Alternatively, just read my article to find out which are the healthiest oils.
I’m secretly glad I don’t need to count carbs. But what should I be paying attention to?
The ingredient list! This is a far more useful source of information regarding what’s in our food.
But that’s just another confusing list of words I don’t know! What the heck is preservative 23049832e3
It’s going to be ok. You just need a few extra tools in your belt and you’ll be an expert in no time. Here are eight simple tips to help you figure out what’s in your food:
You already know to ignore everything you see on the front packaging of your produce. Good. Now turn it around and find the ingredient list.
You want to see a healthy ingredient listed at the top because the ingredient list is in order of highest to lowest quantity.
Less is more. Look for products with fewer ingredients. As a rule of thumb, try to stick to less than 5. Foods with fewer ingredients are generally less refined, which means they’re better for you.
Avoid artificial ingredients. These are usually those weird sounding ingredients like Monoglutamate or Flavour 376. If it sounds like it came from a lab instead of a farm, you should probably avoid it.
Ideally, you want to see sugar pretty low on the list (remember that means it’s in lower quantity). Beware, artificial sugar goes by many names, often: glucose, dextrose or corn syrup.
When choosing bread or baked goods, look for wholemeal or wholegrain flour as the first ingredient, otherwise, I guarantee you they’re made from refined flour, which is just as bad for you as artificial sugar.
If a food contains oil, check that its extra virgin olive oil. Avoid palm oil, sunflower oil, safflower, canola oil and the misleadingly-named vegetable oil (psst! It’s not made from vegetables).
When buying dark chocolate, look for at least 60% cacao solids. Any less and you’ll miss out on the many health benefits of this delicious treat.
With these tips, you’re well on your way to becoming an empowered consumer.
You’ll only need to scan the ingredients once and then you’ll know which foods to gravitate towards next time you’re doing your weekly food shop.
Check out Good Habits on Instagram for more inspiration to make the most of your whole food journey.