Ingredient Reading 101

Are you unsure about what foods are really healthy and what foods are not? You are not alone. Grocers line the shelves with natural, organic, low carb, low fat, gluten free, and many other types of foods – it’s all so confusing. Much of what is on the front of a food package is marketing. The words natural, heart healthy, and low fat are advertising buzz words based on the latest fads. The best way to decide if a food is healthy is to practice ingredient reading.

Begin by keeping it simple

When deciding on whether a packaged food is healthy, less is more. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients in the food, the healthier it will be. If there are dozens of ingredients, chances are most of them are not actually food. Try to stick with foods that have just a few ingredients and you can recognize them all as food.

Ingredient Reading to decipher the Code

What are all those ingredients, if not food? Unfortunately, chances are they arechemicals. There could be dozens, even hundreds of chemicals in a single food item. Food manufacturers add chemicals to our foods for many reasons, such as longer shelf life, more appetizing color or flavor or cheaper production. When you start reading words you can’t pronounce or spell, you can bet that food isn’t going to be a healthy one.

Ingredients to Lose

Here are a few of the most common unhealthy ingredients to watch out for. If you can remove these three from your diet, you’ll go a long way towards eliminating most of the unhealthy processed foods you may be eating. Ingredient reading can help you accomplish this!

Hydrogenated oils: These are trans-fats, man-made fats that preserve foods to last longer on the shelves. These fats are very unhealthy, both raising LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. Even if the package says no trans-fats, be sure to read the ingredients. The FDA allows rounding of nutrients on labels, so any food with less than half a gram of trans-fat per serving can be labeled as zero trans-fat. Always look for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in the ingredients to be sure there are no trans-fats.

High fructose corn syrup: HFCS is liquid sugar. It is very cheap to produce, andmakes food last longer on the shelves, making it a favorite sweetener for food manufacturers. It can cause behavior problems in children and its overuse contributes to the obesity crisis in our country. Watch out for the latest marketing trick. HFCS is now also called corn sugar in an attempt to confuse consumers about what they are actually buying.

MSG: Avoiding MSG is a great way to get a lot of the processed foods out of yourdiet and eat healthier. MSG is an excitotoxin. It is a neurotoxin that literally excites your nerve cells to death. It damages brain cells, inhibits the body’s ability to regulate appetite, can cause depression, obesity, and many other problems. Finding MSG on your label isn’t always easy, though, because it can go by many different names. Some of the most common are monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed, autolyzed, yeast extract, caseinate, textured protein, just to name a few. There are many more that can be found by a simple internet search. Learn what to look for to stay away from MSG.

Ingredient reading doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By paying attention to the ingredient list, rather than the marketing buzz words, you’ll feel confident in knowing you are making the best choices for your family. Learning what ingredients mean can help you decide on whether the food goes in the basket or back on the shelf.

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