Trying to eat better in 2019?
If so, you’ve likely been informed multiple times of the importance of reading food labels.
Of course, this is easier said than done. In order to assess any given food product, you need to know what to look for.
Beyond the basic Nutritional Information label, which addresses the portion size, calories, and grams of fat, protein carbohydrate, and various micronutrients, the ingredient list is an important consideration.
Ingredient lists can be incredibly eye opening: not only does an ingredient statement tell you exactly what ingredients are in any given food or beverage product; an ingredient statement also gives a good indication of how much of an ingredient is in the product relative to other ingredients.
Ingredient statements list individual ingredients in order of weight. If a label lists sugar before salt, for example, there is a greater amount of sugar in the product than salt, and vice versa.
That being said, what specific ingredients should you look for?
If you see any of the following ingredients on a product label, consider these as nutrition warning signs.
Sugar in Any Form
Sugar runs amuck in many packaged foods. Even foods that don’t taste sweet often come laden with added sugar. Sugar should always be your first stop on the ingredient list thanks to its commonality.
Because of its high level of inclusion in prepared foods, the average American consumes an astounding 88 g a day of added sugar: more than three times the maximum recommendation.
Remember that sugar goes by many names, including (but not limited to): sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, brown sugar, maple syrup, and agave.
Hydrogenated and/or Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (also known as trans fat) commonly hide in prepared food products, including baked goods, peanut butter and peanut butter products, snack foods, breads, cereals, and margarine.
Hydrogenated oils increase “bad” LDL Cholesterol and reduce “good” HDL Cholesterol, increasing the risk for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sausage, Bacon, Salami, and Pepperoni
Regardless of whether the label claims “all natural”, “uncured”, or “nitrate/nitrite free”, sausage, bacon, salami, pepperoni, and other cured meats are all classified as Group1 Carcinogens.
Even labels that claim uncured or nitrate/nitrite free are technically still cured and still contain nitrates and nitrites.
This is because the original definition of these products referred to a specific production method. In the years since, production methods have changed, but the definition has not been updated.
As such, product manufacturers are able to label their products as being uncured or nitrate/nitrite free when this is not the case. Always avoid these products, regardless of their labeling.
Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).