Learning to read labels is a habit that will reap rewards for many years to come. Not only for you but for your entire family and even future generations. That's because nutrition is passed from parents to children during conception. Eating habits are learned in early childhood, so it is important to start from the beginning.
If you are no longer at the beginning of your parenting journey, go ahead and start now; better late than never.
It's important to know what you are eating. Since many of us do not have the time nor the inclination to prepare every meal from scratch, it's important to learn how to decipher food labels. I did not misuse the word “decipher” because it is like a secret language you have to learn and it does take time but you can do it! It's so worth it.
Cracking the code
It’s no surprise food labels in America can be baffling. Even when you know what to look for you can sometimes get duped by strategic placement. Plenty of grocery stores also take advantage of the fact that putting the produce section in the front of the store loop will cause consumers to feel that choices made after leaving the produce section are healthier than they are. This is called a Health Halo Effect which causes many people to consume more calories than they would otherwise. I know it has happened to me!
Why it’s confusing
Many shoppers simply go by the words on the front of the label. That can be very deceiving. The problem centers around words like “natural” or “green” and the lack of food labeling laws in the US. It’s important to learn how NOT to be greenwashed by food manufacturers as well as beauty products and cleaning products. One of the most irritating ways food companies greenwash consumers is “no sugar added” on the front label, ugh… that really does annoy me because then people think it’s so healthy! Well, what they don’t tell you is that there are
One way food companies are greenwashing consumers is by the use of the words “no sugar added” on the front label, ugh… that really does annoy me because then people think it’s so healthy! What they don’t tell you is that there are artificial sweeteners in the product which cause migraines, gastrointestinal problems, and more.
While eating less gluten can help people who have a sensitivity to it and is crucial for those have extreme gluten intolerances, not everything that has the “gluten free” label on it is actually worth eating. Don't be tricked into thinking something is healthy because it has the latest catch phrase on it. In the past, it was “fat-free” and others that we scooped up without reading the labels.
No matter what the advertising on the front of the labels says, you still have to read the FACTS which are included in the ingredient list.
There are two main areas you will want to look at on a label. Personally, the first section I look at is the “ingredients” list. The reason is that it is pretty straightforward. If you see a long paragraph under the word INGREDIENTS then you know that you are holding a highly processed food. The ingredients are listed in order of quantity so if “wheat” is the first ingredient then you will know that it is what makes up most of the content of that food. I like to see if I can find products with under five ingredients, of course, that’s not always possible, and sometimes I find something great on sale that has more than five ingredients!
Read the rest of this post here.
Using the information I shared in the post above, my children have learned while grocery shopping with me what we will and will not buy. I wanted my children to learn to think for themselves when they get old enough to make choices when it comes to what they eat.
Some of the things we look for on labels:
One of the most popular ingredients we find in the most unusual foods is sugar, in all its many forms. You could play a game at the grocery store to see who can identify and list the most different names for sweeteners! Make it a competition and the winner gets to pick the movie for movie night! Air-pop some popcorn and slice up some apples with almond butter, now that’s a treat.
In addition to sugars, here’s a list of other ingredients we want to avoid:
- hydrogenated oils
- hydrolyzed proteins
- soy lecithin
- canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil
- food colorings (any color with a number after it such as Red 3, etc.)
- monosodium glutamate (MSG) and it’s code word “natural flavorings”
- Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
- propylene glycol
- nitrites and nitrates
- artificial “anything” such as flavorings
- corn (Some 90 percent of the American field corn crop is genetically engineered to resist herbicides )
One of the first things my children learned to look for was, “is it organic or made with organic ingredients”
- 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
- Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
- Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
- Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
Another thing they want to find on packaged foods is the “butterfly” which is the “NonGMO Project Verified Seal” indicating that the product bearing the seal has gone through a particular verification process which allows consumers to quickly identify products that contain no Genetically Modified Organisms. This verification is an assurance that a product has been produced according to consensus-based best practices for GMO avoidance. To read more about why we avoid eating GMO’s read GMO’s and Your Family.
Read more about how I taught my children to be diligent in reading labels here.
I know learning about ingredients and food labels takes time, but it will save you time in the long run when you avoid many health crises.
What about you? Are you just starting to read labels or are you a super sleuth? What do you find the most challenging about grocery shopping? Share your thoughts in the comments
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