How to read food labels

First of all, I always like to remind you that eating real food is more important than anything. That means, less processed and industrialized food. But sometimes, or because we are traveling, or because we are in a hurry or even because any other reason you need to buy something already made, you need to at least understand what is inside of the package, because even words like “natural”, “organic”, “gluten free” don’t mean anything when it comes to food marketing, since they are so aggressive and they just to want to sell you their products, so BE CAREFUL! Read carefully and educate yourself, your family and your loved ones to read the labels.

1. Well, the main thing about ingredients listed on the package is that the first ingredient on the list is the MAIN ingredient of the product. If you are buying for example, something that contains sugar and sugar (or anything that can be sugar, like honey for example) is listed as the first ingredient, so the product has more sugar than the other ingredients. This is important to know if what you want of the product is really there or if it is just marketing.

2. If the product contains more than 5 ingredients listed, your warming red alert should bip! You don’t need that many ingredients to create a protein bar for example.

3. If you can’t read it, you can’t eat it! This rule is basic! If the ingredients listed sound weird don’t even consider buying.

4. If the ingredients sound like a chemistry or art class, be careful too. Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5? Really? Do eat something with that or let your kids do? You should STOP right now!

Another point to consider is to note that foods labels can vary from country to country, and they can be official or not, here I will list some food labels I consider important to look for.

And, once more! Try to buy brands you can trust and if possible, buy local.

1. ORGANIC: If a product contains the “Organic” seal, it means that 95 to 100% of its ingredients are organic. Products with 70 to 95% organic ingredients can still advertise “organic ingredients” on the front of the package, and products with less than 70% organic ingredients can identify them on the side panel. Organic foods prohibit the use of hydrogenation and trans fats.

Also, organic food practices abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for three years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license, it is prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation, employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management, and crop rotation practices, provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock, refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals, sustain animals on 100% organic feed, avoid contamination during the processing of organic products and keep records of all operations.

Wow! It is a lot to know. Can you see how importante it is for your life? Do you want to know how to identify organic fruits and vegetables by their number sequence in US? Check out my video here!

2. GMO-FREE, NON-GMO, OR NO GMOS: GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals. Products can be labeled “GMO-free” if they are produced without being genetically engineered through the use of GMOs.

3. GLUTEN FREE | LACTOSE FREE | SOY FREE: On August 2, 2013, FDA issued a final rule defining “gluten-free” for food labeling, which will help consumers, especially those living with celiac disease, be confident that items labeled “gluten-free” meet a defined standard for gluten content. Gluten free is when the food does not contain wheat, oats, barley, rye and its derivatives that contain the protein gluten.

Dairy free” was the most widely used and understood term. It was understood to refer to the absence of both milk and products derived from milk, such as butter, yoghurt and cheese, although some mistakenly thought that such products were also free from eggs.

Soy free are products that do not contain soy and its derivatives.

4. HORMONE-FREE: The USDA has prohibited use of the term “hormone-free,” but animals that were raised without added growth hormones can be labeled “no hormones administered” or “no added hormones.” By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones. If the meats you are buying are not clearly labeled, ask your farmer or butcher if they are free from hormones.

5. GRASS-FED: This means the animals were fed grass, their natural diet, rather than grains. In addition to being more humane, grass-fed meat is more lean and lower in fat and calories than grain-fed meat. Grass-fed animals are not fed grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease – although they may have been given antibiotics to treat disease. A “grass-fed” label doesn’t mean the animal necessarily ate grass its entire life. Some grass-fed cattle are grain-finished, which means they ate grain from a feedlot prior to slaughter. Look for “grass-fed and grass-finished.”

5. PASTURE-RAISED: “Pasture-raised” indicates that the animal was raised on a pasture where it was able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants, rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or barn. Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane manner. Animals are able to move around freely and carry out their natural behaviors. This term is very similar to “grass-fed,” though the term “pasture-raised” indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on pasture.

In need for more tips? I selected a few tips to wrap up this post with all the information you need to know to make smart and healthy choices when it comes to buy your food at the groceries store. Here they are:

1. Vegetable oils: You can find amazing seals like “organic”, “non-GMO” but if the product is made with any vegetable oil (canola, corn, soy, safflower, sunflower) is not good at all for your health. Try to go for products that use olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil for example.

2. Serving size: Always look for the serving size on the nutrition facts. It is important to understand the correct amount you will intake. Sometimes you have to calculate the double, even 3 or 4 times to understand how much macro (carbs, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals…) you will get from the product and specially, the amount of sugar, if applicable.

3. BPA Free: Another good thing to check is if the products come from a plastic or metal package is to make sure is BPA free, and then it won’t mess up your hormones!

4. Hidden sugar: Don’t be fool by different names for sugar. Corn syrup, malt syrup, brown sugar, honey…. They are all sugar!

#foodlabels #eatclean