When I first began losing weight, I had little to no food education. I just knew that “bad” foods made me fat and “good” foods helped me lose weight. For a couple of months, I ate all the same foods I was familiar with and just ate less of those foods. Over time, I realized that certain foods kept me fuller and had less calories, allowing me to eat more. This realization took only a few months. After this, I started to think more critically about food and its nutritional value. I enrolled in a nutrition class at college, and what I learned completely blew me away.
Agricultural corporations just want your money; they don’t give even two shits about your health and they will pay and/or threaten whoever is in the way to continue deceptively labeling your food so that you buy a brand instead of food items with nourishing ingredients.
This is going to be a sort of long post because I want to give the low down dirty business on food labeling and how to translate food labels. Food labels have their own language, guidelines, and rules, and it’s extremely important that those who wish to be healthier understand what all the evasive language, alternative names for ingredients, and unmentioned daily values really mean for our bodies.
1.) Low-fat or low sodium means it’s high in other buzzword nutrients or harmful chemicals… or BOTH! Food that is low in sodium, low in fat, and low in sugar does not appeal to the typical American’s taste buds, so companies advertise products as “low-fat” so that you’ll think it’s good for you when it’s really loaded with salt or sugar to help it taste better. Processed foods are notorious for this kind of trickery in advertising. Avoid foods that boast being low in any “buzzword” nutrients.
2.) Sugar can be named literally dozens of ways. FDA guidelines require ingredients to be listed from most to least. Fitspiring people generally don’t want to buy products that have sugar in the first few ingredients because it’s one of the most harmful ingredients in our food. What do food companies do about this? They alter the way they report the sugar in the food you’re eating. Sugar can be called things like “agave nectar,” “blackstrap molasses,” or “barley malt.” This tricks you into thinking there’s less sugar in the food you’re choosing.
3.) Sugar is a carb, but the FDA doesn’t require it’s percent daily value to be labeled separately. On any food label, sugar is listed under the carbohydrate category. The food label gives the percent daily value of carbohydrates, but the percent daily value of sugar is not required to be printed on the label. How is this harmful? If a food item has 8g of carbohydrates (3% daily value) and all 8g of those carbohydrates are sugar (just over 33% daily value) then you’re being led to believe that you’ve only consumed 3% of your daily sugar intake because sugar is just a carb, right?
4.) Chances are that your protein bar has more sugar than protein in it. When trying to help my not-so-health-obsessed boyfriend pick out a granola bar for breakfast, I took him to the breakfast aisle and told him that he could not buy any granola bar with less protein than sugar. Whey protein or soy protein taste is most easily covered by sugar. We found ONE box in the whole breakfast aisle that had more protein than sugar. Astounding! The same goes for protein shakes.
5.) The fewer ingredients, the better. In all, foods that have a short ingredient list, foods that don’t require nutrition labels (like vegetables and fruits), and foods that don’t have commercials are going to be the best foods for you. Try replacing one item at dinner, like your pre-packaged macaroni shells, with a food that has no commercial.
Just keep in mind that simple is better all the time. When in doubt, make it yourself so that you know exactly what’s in your food. Do you find logging your recipes difficult? MyFitnessPal has a function on their app that allows you to manually input all the ingredients you used in your meal and compile it into an entry for you! They even save it for later.
Keep in mind that these are things I learned over a long period of time. They don’t happen overnight, and they won’t be knee-jerk reactions as soon as you read them. Just as we learned unhealthy habits from childhood until now from our friends, family, and advertising, we must unlearn them. Just try to make one healthy choice at a time and add on when you feel like you’ve mastered it.
Stay happy and healthy!