One of the requests I get a lot of is, “Can you teach me to read food labels?” Yes, I can but I personally almost never read labels because I rarely eat foods that HAVE food labels. Yep, I stick to the basics: veggies, good fats (like avocado, coconut, MCT or olive oil etc.), fish, eggs, poultry and meats. I seldom buy anything in a box or a bag (except for pre-chopped veggies, the most amazing gift to the society of busy moms and dads and other busy humans who don’t have hours per day to food prep).
A big reason why people read the labels (and I used to do this too) is to see how many calories foods have. I used to count calories (and I was 10-12 pounds heavier). I NEVER EVER count them now because it really doesn’t work very well for weight–loss. I also rarely pay attention to carb/fat/protein content on labels because I get my nutrients from REAL foods that are only one ingredient. Another reason we are taught to read labels is to make sure we are getting our RDA (recommended daily allowance or % daily value) of nutrients. But RDA is not a great way to decide how much of a particular nutrient you need. RDA is a one-size-fits all guide that was developed to make sure that soldiers in World War II had enough nutrients for basic survival, not the amount needed for peak physical health and performance.
On the occasion that I do buy a packaged food, if there are more than 3-4 ingredients on the label, I won’t even BUY that food. And, if I see any kind of hydrogenated oil or oil that I like to avoid, MSG-type ingredient, artificial sweetener or food dye or preservative, I will not even put that food anywhere near my mouth or the mouths of my family! Sidebar: I don’t have any known food allergens. If you do, you probably will read EVERY label even on foods with 2-3 ingredients.
Here’s the bottom line
- As much as possible stick to foods with one ingredient (e.g. “broccoli” or “chicken” or “salmon”).
- The laws governing food labeling are not always on the side of the consumer. There will be hidden ingredients in packaged foods that are not on the label. Yet another reason to avoid prepared and packaged foods.
- If you don’t recognize an ingredient, don’t assume it’s safe. Look it up or don’t eat it.
- If your grandparents didn’t eat it (or wouldn’t recognize the ingredient unless it’s some kind of magical new fruit or veggie), don’t eat it.
- If you wouldn’t feed it to a child, don’t eat it.
- If you are having a sweet treat, get to know your sweeteners and avoid the artificial ones and beware of “new and improved” sweeteners.
Next week I will go into more detail about sneaky foods that contain ingredients you may want to avoid such as hidden sweeteners. And in two week, I’ll take a deeper dive into healthy vs. unhealthy oils, MSG and other excitotoxins.