How to read Food Labels

final image

If you feel overwhelmed by looking at the food labels on ‘healthy products’ these days, please join the gang! 😀

Reading labels could be tricky. With ‘healthy brands’ taking over the social media and internet these days, it’s important we understand what we should look out for when we buy a food item. Possibility could be high that we go in to buy healthy product, but we end up buying another junk item unintentionally. Most of the items health claims on packaged food could be designed to catch your attention and convince you that the product is healthy.

Pro Tip: Scan the product ingredients which the manufacturer used the most of and ingredients that make up the largest part of what you’re eating. If the largest portions of ingredients include processed sugar, refined grains and vegetable oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy and non- hormone friendly ! Also any ingredient which is hard to pronounce or understand, high chance its highly processed or has additives or ingredients that our body doesn’t want!

The below list might not be an exhaustive one but can certainly be your ‘go-to’ checklist before you go for your grocery shopping next time!

  • Gluten Free: That’s a catchy term you fill find in supermarket shelves these days. But understand this something that’s originally gluten free such as rice, doesn’t not required to be processed differently to make it gluten free coz rice doesn’t have gluten at first place. In case you have to buy gluten-free products make sure it isn’t high on white rice flour. For come of us who have the insulin resistance issue, too much white rice could mess up your insulin levels. Speaking from my personal experience, I have seen many gluten free flour products which have high percentage of white rice or corn flour and contain very less high fibre GF flour options.
    Its much better to look out for gluten free- constituents which are high fibre such as buckwheat, ragi, amaranth, brown rice, quinoa, gluten free oats.
    Any products which has wheat, rye, barley suji, maida or couscous can have gluten in them. Also, oats if not processed in gluten free environment could contain gluten.

  • Vegan: Many vegan products use Soy as a meat replacer but Soy could affect your PCOS hormones, so when you buy a vegan product for your PCOS diet, ensure that you don’t end up buying another hormone disrupter product.
  • Multigrain: When you listen to this term you could relate to all types of multigrain breads; we see in our local grocery stores and a highly stacked item in our households. Well, Multi grain sounds very healthy but only means that a product contains more than one type of grain. And most likely, these are refined grains — unless the product says, ‘whole grain’. Even if the product has whole grains, it may contain very little or negligible whole grains. Next time you buy your sandwich bread, pizza base, kulchas, paos etc, check the label to see how much whole grain is included in the product.
  • Natural. This wouldn’t necessarily mean that the product is 100% natural. It indicates that the manufacturer has used some natural ingredients and but it is important to know which ingredients in the product are natural and which ones are processed. And how much natural % of natural ingredient has been used. Chances are high that the product has just 5% – 10% natural ingredient and rest is processed elements.
  • Organic. This term is used highly in the health space and say very little about whether a product is healthy. For example, if the product has organic sugar, it’s still sugar and makes the product unhealthy. Also, its important to know how many of the ingredients are organic and free of chemicals and fertilisers.
  • No added Sugar or Sugar free: Some products that could be naturally high in sugar. Or instead of processed sugar it contains high natural sugar forms. In case you are staying away from sugar, you must look out for the amount of the natural sugar forms added to the products as well. Natural sugar could act the same way in the body as the normal processed sugar would.  5g is almost equal to one teaspoon of sugar. If a can of soft drink/ juice has 40g sugar – that’s like eating eight teaspoons of sugar. 
    Some sugar types you can spot on product labels are : brown sugar, cane sugar, caster sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, golden sugar,  organic raw sugar,  honey, agave nectar, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, lactose, corn sweetener, malt powder, fruit juice concentrate, , glucose, maltose

  • Fruit-flavored products:  Many processed foods have a name that refers to a natural flavor, such as strawberry yogurt, mango yogurt, smoothie, juices etc. However, the product may not contain any natural fruit but instead chemicals or sugary fruit extract designed to taste like fruit.
  • Fortified/ enriched.  Often found in dairy free milk or juices in the market. This could mean that some nutrients have been added to the product. For example, vitamin D is often added to dairy free milk. And because something is fortified doesn’t make it healthy to consume.
  • Fats: Look out for products with unsaturated fats whenever possible, and limit foods with saturated and trans fatty acids (transfats) . look for terms such as “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated,” which indicate the product contains trans fats which could increase your bad cholesterol. Products with good fats will include whole nuts, seeds, unadulterated and nut butters
  • Sodium:  Too much salt increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, kidney disease and bloating. Brine or salt solution used to store olives, jalapenos etc;  soya sauce and other packaged/tin food contain very high content of sodium. The packaged Indian masalas and marinades that we buy from the market are often are loaded with too much sodium or sugar to keep them alive for a longer period on the shelves.

Additionally, any product that come with added preservatives and additives, you know what to do right? Please do Not buy such products.

Conclusion:

If we talk about the real world today, finding preservative free, sugar free etc food can be very challenging. And with the all the wellness products swirling around us, it’s important that we educate ourselves about what we buy. It’s always better to have as much as home made food and snacks as possible. Please remember that as a rule of thumb, anything which has a long shelf life, means there is added sugar, salt or preservatives to keep it alive for longer period.

So going forward when you buy any healthy product, make sure you keep the above points in mind to make your choice. 

Hope you find this article useful. Let me know your thoughts by commenting on the post below and share it with anyone who you think could benefit from this post.

Happy healing

Nidhi Singh