Simple Tips to Reading Food Labels

reading food label

Simple Tips to Reading Food Labels

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One of the first things I ask my health clients to do, is begin reading labels of anything and everything they put into their mouths. I often recommend that they go home and go through everything in their fridge and pantry and begin reading labels. I recommend they read the labels of not only food packages, but also of drinks and supplements. It never ceases to amaze me how many foods we thought were healthy contain ingredients that are proven to be harmful to your health.

The purpose of this article is to give you some simple and basic ideas to get started. You do not need to have a PhD in nutrition to know what to look for and how to make wise decisions for you and your loved ones.

What foods to avoid:

  1. Hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated or trans fats.Be very careful here and make sure again, you read the ingredients!! The packaged food industry is allowed by law to say “zero trans fats” on the front packaging as long as they do not have more the 0.5 grams of trans or hydrogenated fats per serving. The issue is that one serving may represent five potato chips but we all know that nobody is about to eat just five chips. More importantly, though, is that 0.000 grams of trans fats is the ONLY amount that is healthy.

    Hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, are made by a chemical process called hydrogenation where liquid vegetable fats (which are monounsaturated fats that by themselves would have been reasonably safe) have hydrogen atoms added that turn them into solid fats that have a creamier texture and a longer shelf life (two goals of the packaged food industry). These fats can also be heated and re-heated at high temperatures making them a perfect choice for fast food fryers.

    Hydrogenated fats have been proven to be highly inflammatory to the body and cause heart disease. Naturally occurring saturated fats from animal foods do cause inflammation and raise LDL or bad cholesterol but hydrogenated fats are even worse for you. These trans fats not only raise bad cholesterol, they also cause a decrease in good cholesterol and an increase in triglycerides; an all around tragedy for heart health.

    Be sure to read the list of ingredients and anywhere you see any form of hydrogenated fat in the list, throw the food away. Be careful too with foods we think are healthy and supplements. Peanut butter, which is a healthy food, becomes unhealthy when these fats are added. Bad fats have been added to standard peanut butter for years. It has been interesting to see the standard brands of PB that we all grew up with are now selling “natural” peanut butter. Clearly we all have been eating unnatural PB all of these years. No wonder there is such high rates of illness in this country.

  2. High Fructose Corn SyrupYes, I know the corn industry has commercials out there trying to convince you that HFCS is natural and safe, however, it has been implicated in not only contributing to diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, but it recently was found to contribute to cancer cell proliferation in a study completed and published at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The results of the study were clear showing how refined corn syrup contributed to the growth and spread of cancer cells. The senior author and researcher, Dr. Anthony Heaney, stated, “I think this paper has a lot of public health implications. Hopefully, at the federal level, there will be some effort to step back on the amount of HFCS in our diets. As in anti-smoking campaigns, a federal effort should be launched to reduce refined fructose intake”.

    Additionally, HFCS is made from genetically modified corn and according to Vivian Goldschmidt of the Save Our Bones program, “studies have recently revealed that nearly half of the tested samples of HFCS contain mercury.” HFCS is found in more than 50% of the sweetened packaged foods in the grocery store. This is clearly not an ingredient we want in our bodies or in the bodies of our loved ones.

  3. Artificial SweetenersEven more dangerous by far than high fructose corn syrup are artificial sweeteners. These include names like Aspartame, Nutrasweet, Equal, Splenda, Acesulfame potassium, Sunett, Sweet One, Saccharin, Sugar twin, Sweet’n low, Sucralose, and a new one called Neotame.

    If you’ve been reading my newsletters and following some of my social media posts, you already know some of the information about how harmful artificial sweeteners are for your body. A recent study on aspartame presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego found it causes damage to the kidneys. This report comes after years of other findings showing it is harmful to the brain and is a potential cause for other serious neurological disorders. A published article in Drug and Chemical Toxicology illustrated yet another route by which aspartame damages your brain, “The results of this experiment indicate that long-term consumption of aspartame leads to an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain, literally attacking your cells, even crossing the blood-brain barrier to attack your brain cells, creating a toxic cellular overstimulation called excitotoxicity.” “MSG is also an excitotoxin, and works synergistically with aspartame to create even more damage to your brain cells,” according to Dr. Mercola. Be sure to see some comments on MSG below.

    Making matters even worse, Dr. Russell Blaylock, a retired neurosurgeon, recently reported, “Excitotoxins have been found to dramatically promote cancer growth and metastasis. In fact, one aspartame researcher noticed that, when cancer cells were exposed to aspartame, they became more mobile … ”

    Yes we are picking on aspartame here, also known as Nutrasweet and Equal, but what about some of the others? Saccharin (also known as Sugar twin and Sweet n Low) has been implicated in contributing to cancer since the 1970’s. More recently, even Splenda (also known as sucrolose), has come under scrutiny. According to a study published in 2008 about Splenda, it found that the sweetener “reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent and affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you’re on certain medications like chemotherapy, or treatments for AIDS and certain heart conditions.” Good bacteria in your gut is crucial for a strong immune system and overall good health.

    In response to this study, James Turner, chairman of the national consumer education group Citizens for Health issued the following statement: “The report makes it clear that the artificial sweetener Splenda and its key component sucralose pose a threat to the people who consume the product. Hundreds of consumers have complained to us about side effects from using Splenda and this study confirms that the chemicals in the little yellow package should carry a big red warning label.” (see Dr. Mercola articles sited below)

    What should you do instead? First, see many sweet and delicious dessert recipes with no added sugars or sweeteners in my book, “Fabulous Recipes for Vibrant Health” by clicking here. Or, try using Stevia or Lakanto where a natural zero-calorie sweetener is needed. Stevia is available at the store and Lakanto, which is a one-for-one natural zero calorie sweetener that is easier to use than Stevia for baking, is available by clicking here to order.

  4. Artificial Colorings (this is too outrageous – you must read this one)What exactly is red no. 40 and blue no. 6 and yellow no. 5? Does this sound like food to you? I certainly hope not. According to Wikipedia, these FD&C numbers are given to “synthetic food dyes that do not exist in nature” but are approved by the FDA for use in foods. If the FDA approved these artificial colorings, they must safe, right?

    Well initially, there were food colorings that were approved by the FDA and then later banned (seven to be exact). Some of them were even used to color Florida oranges (what?! – see list below). According to Wikipedia, “new studies now point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents as aggravating ADD and ADHD symptoms.” According to Vivian Goldschmidt, “colorants approved for use in food may contain up to 10ppm (parts per million) of lead and arsenic.” This IS NOT something I want to be adding to my body and hopefully you don’t either. Interestingly, however, some “natural” colorings aren’t any more appetizing. Cochineal, for example, or (E120), is a red dye derived from the cochineal insect or as Dr. Michael Greger calls it “beetle juice”. He has stated that this can be found in cherry popsicles and yogurt etc.!!! He said he just doesn’t understand why they don’t use cherries to color the cherry popsicles red. I would have to agree!

  5. Artificial PreservativesAgain, artificial preservatives are added to packaged foods to retard spoilage and extend shelf life. This seems like a noble thing to do except many of these are harmful to your health. Certain preservatives that were once considered safe—most notably sulfites and nitrites—have been banned in recent years or greatly restricted in their permissible uses. Allergic reactions and stomach upset may occur and again, according to Wikipedia, symptoms of ADD and ADHA may occur as a result of artificial preservatives. Some even as harmful as BHT are still found in packaged foods, like boxed cereal from major well known food manufacturers. Yes fresh foods without artificial preservatives may spoil faster, but it is worth it for good health. Learning to keep certain foods in the fridge or freezer (like breads) promotes longer life for your foods and ultimately a longer life for you!
  6. MSG or Monosodium GlutamateMSG is, according to Wikipedia, “a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid”, which is used in food processing to enhance flavors. They state that although there have been concerns about the health affects of MSG on humans, no known conclusions proving this have been drawn. Dr. Mercola, on the other hand, writes about John Erb a researcher from the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada who is writing a book titled “Slow Poisoning of America”. Erb, in his book, notes hundreds of studies around the world where scientists are researching diabetes and obesity. He states that in all of these studies, “the mice are fed MSG to make them obese.” Mercola explains that MSG increases three fold the amount of insulin the pancreas creates and that “MSG is scientifically proven to cause obesity.” He feels that MSG contributes not only to diabetes and obesity, but to headaches, migraines, autism, ADHD and Alzheimer’s.

    MSG is in most packages foods and is found by many different names including hydrolyzed vegetable protein, Accent, Aginomoto, natural meat tenderizer, natural flavoring and more. John Erb explained that “it’s added to food (by the food industry) for the addictive effect it has on humans.

    Clearly there is controversy over MSG and whether or not it is harmful. I suggest you pay attention to your own reaction to this ingredient and determine what is best for you as an individual. Again, if you are eating mostly fresh unprocessed whole foods, MSG will not be a concern.

  7. Added Sugar and other natural sweetenersSince I deal with clients with so many serious health challenges like cancer and diabetes etc, I’ve become very aware of added sugar in packaged foods, even the ones from the health-food store. Learn to watch out for added simple sugars and try to decide if you really need to eat that or can you find a better lower sugar alternative?

    Pay attention to all added simple sugars such as sugar (of course), honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, agave nectar, and even evaporated cane juice etc… Yes, some of these are natural and do provide some nutrients and enzymes, but if you have a health challenge or you are trying to watch your weight and energy levels, then please avoid these. You will find added sugars in many foods including peanut butter, pasta sauce, salad dressing, health bars, boxed cereal and more. Be extra cautious of how many times a simple sugar of some form is listed in the ingredients. If you add up all of the different forms of sugar in some (even “healthy) boxed cereals, it becomes the number one ingredient. Adding fresh fruit and cinnamon to a bowl of natural unsweetened cereal will satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier and more energizing way.

  8. Added Dairy, Wheat or GlutenThese foods are common allergens and/or may be an issue if you have any variety of health challenges. Dairy, wheat and gluten may be exacerbating digestive and inflammatory issues such as arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Dairy is a source of cholesterol, saturated fat, milk sugars and hormones. If you’d like more information about this subject, contact me at either at janet@sanaview.com or (724) 417-6695.
  9. Too Many vegetable oils that cause inflammationBe sure to see my upcoming article on inflammation and how to reverse autoimmune disorders. In the meantime, since we are speaking about reading labels, the unfortunate truth is that almost all packaged foods (even the healthier ones) are filled with inflammatory fats. Even some vegetable oils that sound healthy can actually be inflammatory for the body and contribute to digestive problems, autoimmune disease, and all kinds of other aches and pains.

    According to Dr. Andrew Weil, these fats include animal fats, corn oil, cottonseed oil, palm oil (some controversy on this one), safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. None of these are as harmful as the hydrogenated fats written about above, but please be aware that we get too much saturated and omega 6 oils in our diet in this society and not enough of the antiinflammatory Omega 3 oils. Omega 3 fats are highest in flax, walnuts, chia seeds and wild fish. Health challenges can arise when you get an improper balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 from eating too many packaged foods.

The solution to all of this is simple… stop eating foods out of a package and start eating real fresh foods. If this seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin, contact me at janet@sanaview.com or (724) 417-6695.

Other references not mentioned in above text:

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/pancreatic-cancers-use-fructose-165745.aspx “Pancreatic cancers use fructose, common in Western diet, to fuel growth, study finds By Kim Irwin August 04, 2010

New Research Links Nutrasweet to Leukemia and Lymphoma. Dr. Mercola | July 14 2009 |Is This FDA-Approved Sweetener Causing Brain Damage? Dr. Mercola | March 24 2012 | Aspartame is, by far, the most dangerous substance on the market that is added to foods. Dr. Mercola | November 06 2011 | Diet Soda Now Linked to Heart Disease. Dr. Mercola | February 23 2008 |

Current Seven Artificial Colorants (source Wikipedia)

In the USA, the following seven artificial colorings are permitted in food (the most common in bold) as of 2007:

FD&C Blue No. 1 – Brilliant Blue FCF, E133 (blue shade)
FD&C Blue No. 2 – Indigotine, E132 (indigo shade)
FD&C Green No. 3 – Fast Green FCF, E143 (turquoise shade)
FD&C Red No. 40 – Allura Red AC, E129 (red shade)
FD&C Red No. 3 – Erythrosine, E127 (pink shade, commonly used in glacé cherries)[10]? FD&C Yellow No. 5 – Tartrazine, E102 (yellow shade)
FD&C Yellow No. 6 – Sunset Yellow FCF, E110 (orange shade)

Limited use

The following dyes are only allowed by the FDA for specific limited applications:

Orange B (red shade) – allowed only for use in hot dog and sausage casings.

Citrus Red 2 (orange shade) – allowed only for use to color orange peels.

Delisted and banned

FD&C Red No. 2 – Amaranth
FD&C Red No. 4[11][12]
FD&C Red No. 32 was used to color Florida oranges.[6][11]
FD&C Orange Number 1 was one of the first water soluble dyes to be commercialized, and one of seven original food dyes allowed under the Pure Food and Drug Act of June 30, 1906.[6][11]
FD&C Orange No. 2 was used to color Florida oranges.[6]
FD&C Yellow No. 1, 2, 3, and 4[11]
FD&C Violet No. 1[11]