Food packages are covered with information and tag lines. So, how do you decode nutrition labels and figure out what's healthy and safe from what's not? The first step is understanding the label.
Two general guidelines:
1. Make sure you can pronounce and recognize each ingredient listed on the label.
Chips are a perfect example. You can purchase chips with three ingredients: potatoes, salt, and olive oil or you can purchase chips with twenty-five ingredients, including vegetable oil, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, natural and artificial flavor, dextrose, artificial color (yellow 6, yellow 5, and red 40), lactic acid, citric acid, sugar, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate. If you don't recognize an ingredient, put it back on the shelf.
2. Avoid common yet harmful ingredients like gum, refined sugars, and artificial colors.
These popular ingredients can be disguised as different names under different labels. Gums refer to guar gum and xanthan gum. Refined sugars include high-fructose corn syrup and sucralose. Artificial colors include "natural" flavors. If you’re interested in learning more about the why behind each of these, the Environmental Working Group has a food score database that will help you navigate the potential health effects of these processed and artificial ingredients.
Ultimately, the focus should be on consuming whole foods, even if they do come in a package. Choosing food items with clearly recognized ingredients on their labels will ultimately guide you in purchasing the best-quality foods to nourish and support your body.
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