what’s in a label

One of the most eye opening moments for me when learning how to live a healthier life was when I started reading labels in the store. No longer trusting the advertising slogans of “all natural” and “contains added calcium for stronger bones” to make the decisions for me made a huge difference in the foods I chose for me and my family.

Obviously, those items in the store WITHOUT a label are your best choices because they just have one ingredient. An apple is an apple, for example. There’s the whole organic vs non organic discussion too but I find that if you stick with the “Dirty Dozen” list for produce to buy organically, you will be just fine. These are:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Potatoes

A good rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter of the store as that is typically where you’ll find the produce, dairy and meat. If you are the type of shopper who goes down every single aisle, you may also be the one leaving the store with unneeded, unwanted and likely, unhealthy items. Those darn marketing execs are *too* tricky in the aisles…

Go to your cupboard and find a few items that have nutrition labels. Look at the nutrition label and find the ingredients list–this is where you will find everything that is contained in a product. Ingredients are listed in order of dominance. The most prevalent ingredients are listed first followed by less prevalent ingredients.

Clean foods usually have a short ingredients list, ranging from one to eight items. I personally try to choose items with five or fewer ingredients, but the general rule of thumb is the longer the list, the more processed the food item. And if there is something you can’t pronounce on the list, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s not good for you.

It is very important to note where sugar and salt are found on the list. Strive to choose items with no added sugars (and even more important, no aspartame). When I am choosing, I tend to allow things that are 4g of sugar per serving or less. You’ll find this information on the label as well in the “nutrition facts” section. Bonus points if you choose items that are unsweetened or unsalted. If that is not possible, sugar and/or salt should be listed near the end of the ingredients list.

Go through your fridge and cupboards to decide what foods you are willing to feed yourself and your family and which you aren’t. This is not the time to eat everything bad for you to rid yourself of it for a “fresh start;” It’s the time to truly make some healthier decisions for yourself, your spouse, your kids. There are tons of food pantries and shelters out there that would be glad to rid your home of these items.

Contrary to popular belief, clean eating does not mean eating a cupcake while mopping the floor. Take some time to educate yourself so you can make healthier decisions for yourself and for your family.


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