Okay I get it there are certain things that we are probably never going to make from scratch and in that case we have to buy them packaged which is totally fine! I also know that you're busy and that sometimes you can't help it if you get stranded out somewhere without food or run out of time to make dinner and then you suddenly find yourself running through the grocery store looking for something convenient and in that moment pre-made/packaged food sounds like a great idea so in a hangry and confused blur you blindly grab something and are left heating up an "all natural" frozen burrito (again) and questioning your life's decisions. It's okay, we've all been there sister.
Most people assume that food labels are pretty simple to read and go by the philosophy of; don't buy anything with ingredients that you don't recognize and while this is totally true there is actually a lot more that you need to know when it comes to reading labels. But don't fear, thats why you have me! I'm going to teach you the good the bad and the ugly when it comes to reading food labels.
Let me start off by saying that if a package says; Low Fat, Low Carb, Low Sugar, Low Salt, Low Calorie, 0 Calorie or all of the above you should probably (definitely) stay away from it. While all of those may sound like healthier alternatives to the uneducated consumer, low anything usually means high in chemicals and fillers and low in nutrients so if you're trying to get healthy I would suggest steering clear of these products.
Now that we've covered the front of the package let's dive into the fine print, the ingredients list.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
- “Artificial Flavour” - 1500 on the market
- “Natural Flavour” - 500 on the market
- Caramel Flavour - Found in pop and low calorie food
- BHT and BHA - Artificial preservatives
- Sulfites - Found in dried fruit, pickled foods and wine
- Nitrates and Nitrites - Found in processed & smoked meat
- Propyl Paraben or ANY Paraben
- Propyl Gallate
- Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium -Artificial sugars
- Brominated Vegetable Oil - Flame retardant found in drinks
- Table Salt - You can almost always assume that if something does not say "sea salt" it is table salt.
- MSG also labeled as: Monosodium Glutamate, Monopotassium Glutamate, Glutamic Acid, Gelatin, Calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, hydrolyzed protein, textured Protein, Yeast Extract, Autolyzed Yeast, Spice Extract, Yeast Nutrient - Causes allergic reactions, brain Damage, holes in the brain, cancer, etc.
- Artificial Colours Specifically; Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Orange 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6
- Anything ending in "ase" and "ose", ending in "sugar", dextran, diastatic malt powder, ethyl maltol, fruit juice concentrates, syrup, maltodextrin, panela, corn fiber, sorghum, treacle - All artificial sugars.
- "All Natural" or "Natural Ingredients" or "Natural"- There is no regulation that decides what exactly this means which means that it could still have unnatural ingredients in it.
HOW TO KNOW HOW MUCH OF AN INGREDIENT IS IN A PRODUCT
Luckily most ingredients on the label are ordered from the highest quantity to the lowest except for the following:
- Natural and Artificial Flavours
- Food Additives
- Salts and Vitamin Derivatives
- Mineral Nutrients
- Salts of Mineral Nutrients
- Spices, Seasoning, Herbs (minus salt)
- Flavour Enhancers
This is why it is so important to read the label before you buy because even if artificial flavours are written as the last ingredient, it doesn’t mean the quantity in the product is low. A general rule to use when buying packaged foods is to aim to only purchase foods with 6 ingredients or less.
Okay so now that I've told you what to look out for and probably scared you out of ever venting into the middle aisles of the grocery store ever again (whoops) it's time to talk about what to look for when you really are all out of options or you're not super keen on grinding your own peanuts for your peanut butter or pressing your own soybeans for tofu.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
- USD or Canada Certified Organic - This means that the product was grown, processed and made with 95% or more organic ingredients.
- NON GMO - This means that the product was grown without genetic modification or was made without genetically modified ingredients.
- Certified Vegan - Made without any animal products, animal testing or animal cruelty.
- Certified Gluten Free (GF) - Made without gluten.
- Soy Free - Made without soy products or fillers.
- Dairy Free - Made without dairy, butter, etc.
- Sugar Free - Contains less than 0.5g of sugar.
- High Fiber - Contains more than 5g of fiber.
- Halal - Meat slaughtered and prepared as prescribed by Muslim law.
- Kosher - Meat slaughtered and prepared as prescribed by Jewish law.
When you're buying pre-made and packaged foods it's important to make sure that anything that is in the food is something you would regularly eat on it's own, for example if you're buying a protein bar would you choose one where the ingredients list is a mile long or one that is made with 5 real food ingredients? When it comes to food labels less is always more, my general rule is I try to find something that is made with actual food and with the least ingredients possible.
MY GO TO PRE-MADE/PACKAGED FOODS
- RXBAR Protein Bars - Find them here
- GoMacro Protein Bars - Find them here
- Prana Organics, trail mixes, dried fuit, etc - Find them here
- Herbaland Protein Gummies - Find them here
- Alter Eco Chocolate - Find it here
- Organic Natural Nut Butter - Look for any where the only ingredient is the nut (and maybe sea salt)
- Sunrise Foods Organic NON GMO Extra Firm Tofu - Find it here
- Sunrise Foods Organic NON GMO Smoked Tofu - Use above link
- Hummus - Look for minimal ingredients (chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, seasonings)
- Gt's Kombucha - Low in sugar, I like the Gingerade flavour.
- Cold Pressed Organic Juice - Make sure the only ingredients are actual fruit and vegetables, no concentrates or added sugars.
- Unsweetened Nut Milk - Look for the least ingredients possible, no added sugar and if possible fortified with vitamin B for extra nutrition!
- Silver Hills Brand or Ezekiel Brand Sprouted Bread
Labels don't have to be complicated, I know that it can seem a little intimidating when the front of the package says one thing and the ingredients list says another but if you use the tips I just gave you and always go for things with real whole food ingredients you will be just fine! Next week on my Kitchen Makeover Series I will be teaching you how to store all of the different kinds of food you now have on hand because you used my grocery list to keep them fresh and maintain their nutrients the longest, see you then!