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It’s easy to spend quite some time looking through the label of every food product you want to purchase, especially if you’re foreign to the process. I’ve simplified the method with a simple guide to understanding key parts and avoiding harmful ingredients that are listed on the nutrition label before purchasing a food item.

Reading food labels may seem irrelevant or too time-consuming, but, my friends, nothing about it should be ignored. Reading food labels and looking at the ingredients list to help guide your food choices is just as important as what you feed your body.

Food labels offer information like serving sizes, total calories, nutritional content, percent daily values, and ingredients that pertain to a particular food item. They can look tricky and become hard to understand, and companies are excellent at slipping harmful ingredients into foods sold at grocery stores. Below are the two parts that are the most important to look through and ingredients to always avoid.

serving sizes

When looking at the labels, one important thing to review is the serving size section. It can be confusing, which is why so many companies use it to fool customers. A common mistake is to look at just the serving size. It’s key, however, to also read the number of servings in the package, or “servings per container”. That tiny box of crackers looks small, but little do you know that box of crackers holds 4 servings (which is shown as “Servings Per Container: 4”). Not only does it have 4 servings, but each serving is only ¼ cup.

Now, without reading the label, it’s easy to eat the entire tiny box of crackers, which, in this example, would quadruple the amount that should be eaten (since each box has 4 servings in it – yikes). Additionally, make sure and compare the portion size you eat to the actual serving size. If the serving size is ¼ cup of crackers and you eat ½ cup of crackers, you’re consuming double the calories, fat, carbs, and other nutrients listed on the label.

Another thing to keep in mind is the nutritional facts, like calories, fat (plus the type of fat), carbohydrates (including sugar), protein, vitamins, and minerals, apply to only one serving!

ingredientS list

Move to the bottom of a food label to see a required list that, in my opinion, is singlehandedly the most important thing to look through; the ingredients list.

To make it simple, the ingredients are listed in order of most used to least used (in order of quantity). So, the first ingredient listed is what’s used in the largest amount and it goes down from there.

It is required by law to include the names of any FDA-certified (ugh) color additive (one single additive). On the flip side, which is frustrating to realize, some ingredients can be shown collectively. For example, “flavors” (a common ingredient often seen in processed foods) is listed as one ingredient, but it can be made of 50 ingredients, all of which don’t have to be listed by name. UGH!

Review the ingredients list to frequently, and unfortunately, discover ingredients that wreak havoc on the body, like added sugar, added salt, flavors, color additives, fat replacers, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gases, and preservatives. These artificial elements are presented with all sorts of names, and it’s vital to know, identify, and avoid them to maintain true health in the mind and body. Use the list below as a guide and reference for ingredients to always dodge.

  • Names commonly used for added sugar are corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, organic cane sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Names commonly used for added salt are sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate, and disodium.
  • Names commonly used for color additives are caramel color, FD&C Blue Nos. 1, FD&C Red No. 2, grape skin extract, annatto extract, and saffron. Note companies are not obligated to show these by name and can list them only as “colorings” or “color added”.
  • Names commonly used for flavors are natural flavoring, organic flavor, organic natural flavor, artificial flavor, and spices.
  • Names commonly used for preservatives are citric acid, potassium sorbate, BHA, BHT, EDTA, and tocopherols (Vitamin E).
  • Names commonly used for fat replacers are modified food starch, carrageenan, cellulose gel, and microparticulated egg white protein.
  • Names commonly used for emulsifiers are soy lecithin, polysorbates, mono- an diglycerides, and sorbitan monostearate.
  • Names commonly used for stabilizers are gelatin, pectin, xanthan gum, and guar gum.
  • Names commonly used for gases are carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Colors, flavors, and preservatives are added to make the food look more appealing, enhance flavor, and extend the shelf life – all things that make companies’ money but damage the body. And y’all, these are only a few of the many deceiving names for artificial ingredients.

So, a simple rule to follow – if you can’t pronounce the ingredient or have no idea what it is, PUT IT BACK.

All of these fake filler ingredients commonly added to the food products sold at grocery stores (they are especially abundant in the aisles) are disguised as various titles but all cause chronic inflammation and lifelong damage to the mind and body when consumed. Dive deeper into the detrimental effects of artificial flavorings by reading One (of many) Reasons To Avoid Artificial Flavorings.

Using food labels can be tricky but knowing what to look for and how to read them can help dictate whether or not to purchase that food, which is critical in maintaining true health and fueling your body with proper nutrients. If pressed for time, review (at minimum) two parts a food label, the serving size and ingredients list. Small steps like this can lead to big changes for the better.

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