On my nutrition journey, I found that most of the food my family and I were consuming was crap! Even the stuff I considered healthy. I have recently spent hours in the grocery store and online reading food labels and deciding which foods are best for us to consume. You guys – the marketing is so good now a days that the brands we believe to be “healthy”, because they have nice fancy labels that are labeled “organic” or “no sugar” or “healthy” is not certified organic, has a sugar substitute or other fillers that are worse than sugar, and has ingredients that are masked to seem healthy. It is all in the ingredient label guys… but this isn’t easy to understand either and who has the time to go down the rabbit hole? Which is why I compiled some helpful information all in one place. First, here are a few rules of thumb when it comes to reading the ingredient labels:
THE FEWER THE INGREDIENTS THE BETTER
Try to choose foods with fewer than FIVE ingredients. There are some clean foods that that have more than five ingredients; although, it is important to be mindful that if it is a simple food there shouldn’t be a ton of ingredients. Such as popcorn…
MAKE SURE THE INGREDIENTS ARE FAMILIAR
If you cannot pronounce the name of the ingredient – it probably isn’t good for you, or it is being masked as an unhealthy ingredient. Sometimes there will be a known ingredient listed that has more unknown ingredients listed in parentheses. The ingredient label should not be difficult to read. Use the almond milk ingredients as an example…
THE INGREDIENTS ARE LISTED FROM MOST PROMINENT TO LEAST
Ingredients on a nutrition label are listed in descending order according to quantity. In other words, what weighs most will be listed first. Look at the first three ingredients to make your decision if it will be good for you or not. Use Nutella as an example, you would think the most prevalent ingredient in Nutella would be Hazelnuts, since it is advertised as a “Hazelnut Spread”. If you look at the ingredient list, the first ingredient is SUGAR! Then it lists PALM OIL, which is a ultra-processed oil (see below under seed oils). The third ingredient is hazelnuts… finally.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE QUALITY OF INGREDIENTS
Our body is the machine that allows us to function throughout the day. In order to promote premium functionality you want to fuel your machine with quality foods and ingredients. In order to fuel your body properly you must eat wholesome, nutrient dense protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Pay attention that the ingredients are wholesome and minimally processes. It is also more favorable if they are organic.
1. Organic Ingredients
See my post “Understanding Food Labels” on how to decipher quality controlled labels, including certified organic, grass fed, and pasture raised. It is important to eat mostly organic ingredients in order to get the most benefit from macro- (protein, carbs, fats) and micro- (vitamins, minerals) nutrients out of our food. Check for the following labels when purchasing organic food:
OATS & GRAINS- Certified Organic
FRUITS & VEGETABLES– Certified Organic
BEEF & PORK– Certified Organic, American Grass fed Association
CHICKEN & EGGS– Certified Organic, Certified Humane Pasture Raised
SEAFOOD– Wild Caught, Certified Sustainable
2. Whole Ingredients
These ingredients are whole (have not been modified from its original state) or minimally processed. Try to stay away from the following ingredients:
X REFINED GRAINS– Significantly modified from its natural state, removing the bran and germ. This removes nutritional value and still has a lot of calories.
On the other hand, there is an argument that phytic acid is prevalent in whole grains. Phytic acid is known as an anti-nutrient can reduce the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. There are also positive aspects of phytic acid. It serves as an anti oxidant that helps against insulin resistance.
With this, I suggest to have a healthy balance of refined and unrefined grains.
✔ I like to use: Sprouted Whole Wheat Flour, Oat Flour, Almond Flour, Coconut Flour, Kamut Four
X REFINED SUGAR– On the nutrition label there “Sugar”-which occurs naturally in food and “Added Sugar” which was added during processing.
X ARTIFICIAL SUGAR
✔ I like to use: Maple Syrup, Honey, Coconut Sugar
X ULTRA-PROCESSED OILS– These are also known as seed oils. They are highly processed inflammatory oils and have been found to cause gut issues and have other negative health related aspects. To see more information regarding seed oils, see this site. You can also check out the scientific article claiming “Omega-6 oils are the driver of heart disease” on the NIH site. In the videos below, watch the comparison of how canola oil is made versus olive oil. Canola oil shows so many steps to make this ultra-processed oil. It’s really gross! Olive oil is made in way less steps and processed more naturally.
Now these videos show the oils being processed on a industrial level. There are other small manufacturers that may not process vegetable oils to this extent.
✔ I like to use: Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, Ghee, Grass fed Butter
The bad part is they are found in EVERYTHING. It is really annoying! I have switched out most of the foods in our household with other foods that do not use seed oils. I say I switched out “most” foods that contain seed oils, because some things I have decided to let slide. Although, I am still researching foods that replace these. I figure if I am doing my best to eliminate seed oils wherever possible, then it is better than not at all.
Limit Additives & Preservatives
- Stay away from Gums. To name a few- Xantham, lecithin, locust bean, gellan, guar.
I have created this blog post as a cheat sheet for some of the foods I have researched, tried and now use in my household. It will be everchanging, but a very convenient resource!
Highly processed inflammatory oils and have been found to cause gut issues and have other negative aspects. The bad part is they are found in EVERYTHING. It is really annoying! I have switched out most of the foods in our household with other foods that do not use seed oils. Instead try to find things with Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, and Coconut Oil. I say I switched out “most” foods that contain seed oils, because some things I have decided to let slide. Although, I am still researching foods that replace these.