Stop reading the nutrition label. Seriously, it doesn’t do you any good.
Calories are not created equal. Even if they were created equal, our bodies are not. Fat won’t make you fat. Fat, carbs, and protein work best when consumed together in appropriate portion sizes (read more about PFC eating).
I strongly encourage you to check out the links in this article that will take you to other relevant articles I’ve written. This article is already 1,100 words so the links keep me from writing a novel!
A nutrition label is just a bunch of numbers and it distracts us from listening to our bodies because we are caught up with eating NUTRIENTS rather than FOOD. You can learn everything you need to know about a product by scrolling a little further down to the ingredient list. Here are some things to know:
1. Ingredients are listed in order of most to least
For example, if you read the ingredients in strawberry Pop Tarts- strawberries are at the bottom of the ingredient list long after 5 different types of sugar are listed.
2. Zero doesn’t really mean zero
Just because it says “trans fat free” doesn’t mean there isn’t any trans fat in the product. Confusing, I know, but the nutrition label will say zero grams while the ingredient list says otherwise. You can read how to identify trans fat in products here.
3. Identify added sugars
If you’re buying products that say “lite” or “light” you will often see the sugar content is less according to the number of grams on the nutrition label. However, a glance at the ingredient list will show whatever artificial sweetener that was added. Those are just as bad if not worse for you than regular sugar. Get to know the many faces of sugar if you don’t already; they are in everywhere. If you don’t know what the definitions are behind words like “reduced” or “light” I explain what they are here.
Currently, the grams of sugar listed on a label does not tell you if it’s from natural sugar versus added sugar. You have to look at the ingredient list to figure it out. For example, if you buy plain yogurt you will still see roughly 9 grams of sugar per cup. The only ingredient in plain yogurt is milk so you can conclude that the 9 grams of sugar is the natural sugar, lactose, found in milk. It’s another story if you buy flavored yogurt. You’ll see upwards of 23 grams of sugar; 9 naturally found in the milk, 14 from whatever type of sugar they added.
4. Health claims usually mean unhealthy products
Some claims sound healthy but the product itself is not healthy at all (ahem, whole grain Pop Tarts???). Ready to hear some gross facts? Michael Pollan shares a few in his book “In Defense of Food:”
When you buy fat-free products you’ll notice that the fat that gives product its creaminess is replaced with hydrogenated, highly processed oils or guar gum or carrageenan. Instead of eating real bacon bits, they’ve replaced the….bacon… with soy protein. That coffee creamer you love? Our fat-phobic culture got rid of the fatty cream and replaced it with corn starch and trans fat-filled oils. The list goes on.
5. Fortifying doesn’t make it healthy
Frosted shredded wheat has way more nutrients than plain shredded wheat because it has been fortified. That doesn’t make it healthier considering you have to eat a sugar bomb to get those nutrients and you hardly get any protein or fat if a bowl of cereal is your breakfast. If you’re eating more fruits and veggies and taking a multivitamin then you won’t need to rely on sugar-loaded cereals to get your nutrients.
6. Fats aren’t created equally
While oils like canola, peanut, or soybean will claim to have heart-healthy fats, they are damaged through so much processing that the benefits are essentially canceled out. However, these oils are way cheaper than olive or coconut oil so they are used in everything from salad dressings to cereals. Margarine or butter-imitations and many packaged products contain hidden trans fat (the devil). Lean cuts of conventionally-raised meat are fine since the hormones, toxins, pesticides or whatever else they feed the animals are stored in the fat BUT if you’re buying cuts of meat that are higher in fat your best bet is to get the grass-fed meats, pastured chickens, and wild-caught fish. A nutrition label won’t tell you that.
7. A long list of ingredients is a good indicator of a highly processed product
If you throw a bunch of peanuts in a blender for a few minutes, you get peanut butter. It’s hard to believe, but that’s really what happens. Nothing else is needed. However, if you take a look at a healthy-sounding product, Simply Jif, you’ll find the following ingredients:
ROASTED PEANUTS, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, MOLASSES, SUGAR, SALT.
Here we find cheap, processed oils (rapeseed is another word for canola) and added sugar. That doesn’t sound very simple to me. You would think Simply Jif would have a simple ingredient list like, I don’t know, simply peanuts.
8. We have been brainwashed with good vs. bad nutrients
Saturated fat and cholesterol are two components of food that we’ve been afraid of for decades due to a couple inconclusive studies that kind of thought they might lead to heart disease but weren’t too sure. This led to doctors telling patients to only eat 1-2 eggs a week. Thank goodness that isn’t true because I regularly eat around 4-6 every day! You’ll find according to the nutrition label, one egg provides 62% of your daily allowance of cholesterol. That sounds alarming but now we know cholesterol is an indicator of inflammation that contributes to heart disease, not the cause. High blood cholesterol doesn’t mean you’re eating too many eggs, it’s your body warning you that something has gone wrong- high stress, hormone imbalance, smoking, artificial sweeteners, over-exercising, lack of sleep, excess sugar consumption… these factors lead to inflammation; cholesterol sounds the alarm. Now that you know cholesterol isn’t a bad thing, ignore that 62% and eat more eggs, yolk and all.
Start reading, stop counting
I apologize if this overwhelms you but the food industry is so tricky when it comes to marketing products. The copious loopholes with health claims makes it easy to lead us into thinking we’re making healthy choices. I hope this opens your eyes to what nutrition labels aren’t telling you. If you have questions I’d be happy to answer them.
What other “healthy” claims have you seen on food packaging?