Have you ever looked at the front of a package and read the words “all-natural” or “heart-healthy,” only to look at the ingredients list and find it is packed with salt, sugar, and chemicals you can’t even pronounce?

The front of a food package has one purpose: to make you buy the product. It is not always fact-based and does not indicate the healthiness of the food inside. In order to know what you are truly buying, you need to understand how to read and properly interpret the ingredient list and nutrition information label on food packages.

You may be shocked when you begin to discover what’s really in the food you buy! 

Yet learning this very simple task will help make you an informed consumer. The key to remember is that ingredients are listed from highest to lowest proportions. That is, the first two or three ingredients are the majority of what the food contains. The last few ingredients make up very little of the product. If you want to ensure that you are buying foods that are truly healthy, high-quality, nutritious, and unprocessed, then follow the tips below. 

 

Quick Overview: Rules for Reading Ingredient Lists 

 

  1. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it/don’t eat it. 

  1. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, with the largest quantity of ingredients listed first. 

  1. Ideally, choose foods with less than five ingredients; this means they are minimally processed. 

  1. Avoid chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors. 

  1. Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and trans fats 

 The Details: Choosing Healthy Foods by their Ingredient List 

Whole Grains 

Particularly for cereals, crackers, pasta, and breads, the word “whole” should appear as the first or second ingredient, whether it is whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, or another grain. One way to double-check is to look at the fiber content on the nutrition facts panel; whole-grain foods should deliver at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. 

Hidden Sugars 

Avoid foods with sugar listed in the first three ingredients, and be aware that “sugar” has many names, many of which add calories without boosting nutritional value, and others that can cause stomach distress and other symptoms. Ingredients that end in the word “ose” are all forms of sugar, such as fructose, sucrose and dextrose.

Other sugar sources are honey and corn sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A recent study at the University of California/Davis found that these sweeteners had a similar metabolic effect as other forms of sugar. 

To know exactly how many grams of total sugar a product contains, check out the Nutrient Facts label. Four to five grams of sugar is the equivalent of one teaspoon.

Health Canada says that we should limit our consumption of sugar to a maximum of 10 teaspoons a day. Personally, I think this number is a little on the high side, but it’s a good place to aim for! 

Partially Hydrogenated Oils 

Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats, which have been shown to be even more harmful to arteries than saturated fat. Foods can call themselves “trans-fat free” even if they contain up to half a gram of trans fats per serving. Look on the ingredients list. If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fats. 

Artificial Sweeteners, as in Sucralose, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame 

I tell all my clients (and everyone I know) to AVOID artificial sweeteners. They can actually increase your craving for sweets, are loaded with chemicals, and are often the source of bloating, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns that some artificial sweeteners can be dangerous in large quantities. A few diet sodas every day may be considered “large quantities” over the years! 

Sodium Nitrite  

Used as a preservative in meats, some research indicates that sodium nitrate may pose a cancer risk; another recent study suggested that nitrites and nitrates could interact with medications to damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends limiting the amount you consume by choosing nitrite-free products whenever possible.  

Artificial Colorings in Food 

Research suggests that some colorings may pose health dangers, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Artificial colorings are found in cereals, candy, soda, snack foods, and the list goes on and on, particularly those designed for children.

They are listed on the ingredients label by their color name, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Red 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and Orange B.  

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a salty flavor and companies/restaurants add it to food to enhance flavor (at the expense of your health!) Some people experience “MSG symptom complex,” with reactions such as headache, flushing, sweating, fluttering heartbeat, and shortness of breath.  

Stay tuned for next month. With spring right around the corner, or hopefully right around the corner, comes the ideal time of year to cleanse from the winter months and enjoy the renewing foods of Spring. If you would like to look and feel better than you have in years, get rid of the bloat and some belly fat, have clearer skin, feel more rested when you rise in the morning, shed a few pounds, and more, stay tuned for more details. 

 

 

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Recipe (Smoothie meal): Chia Peach Green Smoothie
Serves 1

A handful spinach or kale
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/2 to 1 banana
1 chopped peach
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/3 scoop vega vanilla protein powder or your preffered protein (optional for extra protein)

Add ingredients to blender in order listed (you want your greens on the bottom by the blade so they blend better and have the chia on the bottom to absorb some liquid before you blend).

Wait a couple of minutes for the chia seeds to start soaking up the almond milk.

Blend, Serve and Enjoy!

Tip: Smoothies are the ultimate recipe for substitutions. Try swapping different greens, fruit or seeds to match your preference.

Bonus: Chia seeds not only have fiber and essential omega-3 fatty acids but they contain all of the essential amino acids from protein.

References:

– http://summertomato.com/wisdom-wednesday-salad-dressing-is-your-friend
– https://authoritynutrition.com/20-reasons-you-are-not-losing-weight/
– http://summertomato.com/the-science-behind-mindful-eating-what-happens-to-your-body-during-a-mindful-meal
– http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3061/2

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About the Author: Christina Della Rocca, n.d.

Christina Della Rocca is a multi-disciplinary Health Coach with over 20 years of experience in the fields of health, fitness, and wellness.

One of Montreal’s leading wellness professionals, Christina has been featured on Montreal AM live, RDS television, CHOM FM, CJAD, Mountain City Rock, and Trends Magazine.  Founder and Director of « EXERCISE PLUS » A Wellness Company that brings health & Fitness programs to companies in and around the Montreal area., Christina is a leading Corporate Wellness Specialist.