Back in 1990, it became a requirement for nutrition labels to be present on all food sold in stores in the United States. If for some reason this isn’t possible, then a list of ingredients must be present.
All of this is useful information to the average and health-conscious consumer, but unless you know what to look for it can be difficult to tell if a food is healthy for you.
A general tip for people who may not know: Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, meaning the first ingredient is what makes up most of the food. This simple tip can be used to find out what you’re actually eating.
What To Look For:
- The word “whole” should appear next to the first or second ingredient if eating crackers, pasta or grain-based products. Whole grains deliver a lot more protein in them than other type of more processed grains. Whole grains are simply grains that contain the entire grain kernel, which is the bran, endosperm and germ. Refined grains are processed and milled, removing the bran and germ, giving the grain a finer texture and giving it an extended shelf life, but removing the dietary fiber, iron and B vitamins.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are super important for brain function, heart health and helping prevent various mental disorders. It’s tough to fit these into a diet though, so get them in healthy sources when you can. For instance, if you eat eggs, buy the kind that are omega-3 enriched.
- Protein and dietary fiber are usually good and you want to eat foods full of them.
- Eat foods bearing the USDA Organic seal as much as possible. This not only drastically reduces or removes pesticides, herbicides, sewage sludge and antibiotics (it means it has 95 percent or more organic content), but also removes GMOs.
What To Avoid:
- Added sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose, is actually worse than just empty calories. It has been linked to obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Sugar, especially fructose, is difficult for your liver to digest and can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and potentially even high cholesterol.
- Trans fats, which can be found on the ingredients list as partially hydrogenated oils, are the fats your nutritionist warned you about. They’ve been linked to raising bad cholesterol and lowering the good kind, inflammation, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and increased risk of obesity. Trans fats can be artificially or naturally created. Naturally made trans fats are found in small amounts in animal meats, but the artificial ones are created when hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil. Unsurprisingly, the artificial ones are the worst for you.
- Refined carbohydrates are the worst carbs. Refined means all the nutrients from the grains have been removed, which can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. These blood sugar spikes can cause and contribute to insulin-resistance and diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
- Avoid food coloring due to its lack of nutritional value and reports of adverse health effects.
If you’re noticing a trend that ingredients that have been tampered with by man are bad for you, then you’re correct. It’s best to eat everything as close to its natural state as possible.