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Beyond Trim

Reading into Food Labels

I ran across my first-grade report card once, and I was somewhat surprised to see that I got a C+ in reading. Now that I think about it; it wasn’t until the 4th grade at Montmorency School when Mrs. Hunter read books to us in class that I got hooked. After that, I was the kid that read everything including the cereal box while I ate my breakfast. Turns out it was good practice for what I do now.

Most of us eat things that come in bags, boxes, or other packages. Some, if not many, of those foods are not very good for us. Sadly, soda and chips are always on the best seller list. And while some packaged foods are obviously unhealthy, what should we look for to make better choices?

You can’t always go by the front of the package. Like the dust jacket on the latest best seller that’s meant to draw you in, you can’t judge a food by its cover. Some of the claims on the front of the package might be considered almost fictional, i.e. some cereals that advertise “whole grains” contain a tiny percentage of actual whole grain compared to refined.

So, how do you distinguish between the food equivalents of trashy romance novels and foods that would be better for your body and your brain? Enter the nutrition facts label. The nutrition facts label is strictly non-fiction. It tells you pretty much exactly what’s in the package, and if you read carefully, you can steer away from the worst packaged foods. Here are some tips:

  1. Avoid products that have a long list of ingredients or ingredients that you can’t identify or pronounce. Chemicals in the form of artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and fillers may cause health issues.
  2. Packaged foods are notoriously high in sodium, and a high sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure, stroke, stomach cancers, and kidney disease. Most of us should be eating less than 1500mg per day. If the milligrams of sodium per serving are higher than the number of calories per serving, it’s probably too much.
  3. Trans fats and saturated fats lead to clogged arteries. Avoid products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, palm oil, or coconut oil.
  4. Some sugar is found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains, but manufacturers add sugar to many packaged products, and added sugars can really add up. Some labels now separate added sugar from naturally occurring sugar. Just keep in mind that 4g of sugar equals one teaspoon.

One of my favorite quotes comes from well-known children’s author Tomie dePaola who said, “Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.Reading food labels can help you learn how to improve your diet and your health.