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Food Labels: Ingredients List

You are what you eat as the saying goes so scrutinizing your food labels is important! We have been conditioned to check the calories, fat and sugar grams on the label but the ingredient list is an even better way to know exactly what your food contains. Many packaged foods can list ingredients with complicated names that sound like they belong in a chemistry lab, not on your plate. A food that promotes itself as containing whole grains may actually contain more sugar than whole grains!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

It is important to remember that the ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance. The first two or three ingredients will have the most presence. When looking for a quality whole grain product, look for the “Whole Grain” stamp that lets you know there is at least 8g of whole grain per serving or more. 

WHAT IF THERE IS NO STAMP?

First, check the package label to see if it says 100% whole wheat. If it claims to have 100% whole wheat you can believe it. But if you see words that say “whole grain” without any more details, such as “crackers made with whole grain” chances are this product has very little whole grain. While the word “Multigrain” sounds healthy, it is likely not a whole grain. Next, you can check the ingredients list. If the word “whole” appears in the first or second ingredient, you can trust that this has whole grain. The whole grain provides many of the nutrients and when it is overly processed, much of the nutrients are processed out with it. So getting a whole grain product is important!

HIDDEN SUGARS

There are naturally occurring sugars in many foods like fruit and milk. But many products have a ton of added sugar in addition to naturally occurring sugar. Four to five grams of sugar is equivalent to a level teaspoon. One hundred years ago, the average intake of sugar for an American was 4-5 pounds of sugar. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average American consumes approximately 150 pounds of refined sugars in each year!

Many times, you won’t notice a sugar ingredient because it may be listed as a different name. Words that end in “ose” indicate a sweetener. Other sweeteners include honey, high fructose corn syrups, corn syrups, honey, maple syrups, and fruit concentrate.

Ingredients that you don’t recognize should be scrutinized as well. With the internet at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to look up an ingredient to discern whether it is something you want to consume.

HOW TO SHOP FOR WHOLE FOOD PRODUCTS

You may have heard that shopping the perimeter of the store is where the healthiest foods are located. For the most part, this is true! Most of your whole food products are located along the outside wall of the store. The products located in the isles are usually boxed, canned, processed and full of preservatives. Like Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food says, “If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.” So be careful of the health claims on the front of the packaging and select living food rather than boxed products.