Nutrition

Nutrition Labels: Choosing the Healthier Option

So you want to eat healthier but you don’t know what foods to buy. You already know to eat more fruits and veggies, but what about packaged foods? Are any of those foods healthy? What is the best salad dressing or yogurt to buy?

The answer is: READ YOUR LABELS!!!

When it comes to healthy eating, the best thing you can do for your body is to cut out the junk. Junk is anything inflammatory for your body such as sugar and processed foods.

No, I am not here to say you shouldn’t ever buy a package of Oreos. I am here to say, cut down on the junk and see how it makes you feel.

I FIRMLY believe that when you eat better, you FEEL better. As a health coach, I have heard SO MANY of my clients say they did not realize how good they could feel JUST by changing up the food they put into their bodies. When we cut down on inflammatory foods like sugars, processed grains, and processed meats, we shift from an internally stressed body to an internally calm body. Blood sugar levels balance out, digestion improves, skin looks clearer, blood pressure levels decrease, energy improves, and bodily stress is reduced. 

This all happens JUST BY CHANGING UP WHAT YOU EAT!

So how can you take that first step to a healthier you? You can become more aware of what you are putting into your body. Once you know what you are eating, you can start learning how what you eat directly affects how you FEEL. 

1. LOOK AT THE INGREDIENTS

To clean up your diet, you have to look at what you are actually putting into your body. The first 3-5 ingredients listed on a nutrition label are what the food is mostly made of. 

You may notice some products have 20-30 ingredients with many that are VERY complicated to read and pronounce. I’m sure most of those processed ingredients aren’t items in your kitchen. Examples of these processed ingredients would be:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Sucrose, Maltose
  • Citric Acid, Calcium Chloride, Cellulose Powder, Soy Lecithin
  • Food dyes, waxes, and guns
  • Processed Oils (Soybean oil, vegetable oil, palm oil, canola oil)

If a food contains any of these products you may want to place back it on the shelf.

Foods with natural and easy-to-read ingredients are foods you should put into your basket….and your body! Examples of natural foods are:

  • Flour, whole grain oats
  • Honey/Molasses
  • Olive oil/avocado oil/coconut oil
  • Real fruits and Veggies (tomatoes, dates, blueberries, bananas, garlic)
  • Eggs, milk, coconut milk
  • Nuts/Seeds (cashews, pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds)
  • Seasonings (pepper, oregano, basil)

Let’s look at salad dressing. It says organic on the front so it must be healthy right? Let’s look at the ingredients.

This dressing contains soybean oil (a highly processed oil) as the FIRST INGREDIENT. Then it has cheese made with powdered cellulose, whatever the heck that is. This dressing also has citric acid, Xanthan gum, lactic acid, natural smoke flavor, and lots of extracts. Based on the ingredients alone, I would say this sauce does not contain many whole or natural ingredients. Since I could not easily make this product at home, I would place it back on the shelf!

Now let’s look at the ingredients in this next dressing.

The first three ingredients are water, apple cider vinegar, and apple juice concentrate. This dressing has far fewer ingredients and aside from the Xanthan (a thickening agent), this would be an easy dressing to prepare at home. Overall, it is a decent choice based on ingredients. So just based on the ingredients, I would most likely choose the second dressing because it contains more natural ingredients than the first dressing.

Take a look at the ingredients label to see EXACTLY what you are putting into your body. If you cannot pronounce it, or you cannot make it with basic ingredients at home, chances are you shouldn’t be putting it into your body.

Just choosing more REAL and WHOLE foods over processed foods will make a drastic difference in how you feel!

2. Look at the SUGAR content

This step is GREAT if you are someone who already makes an effort to eat healthy. Maybe you don’t eat perfectly, but you generally eat more veggies than the average Joe. 

My dad was someone who ate healthy for YEARS but could not seem to lose any weight. He started reducing his daily SUGAR consumption and he lost 12 pounds in ONE MONTH! This is the same guy who didn’t drop more than two pounds in an entire year!

Natural Sugar vs. ADDED SUGAR

The unfortunate truth is, products today are PUMPED with sugar. Check out this yogurt label.

The ingredients are easy-to-read, there aren’t any crazy ingredients in there, so it must be good right? Well, if you take a look at the sugar content, you will see this little single-serving yogurt has 19 grams of sugar. This is about half the sugar you would get from a can of Coke. Notice, right next to the sugar content, it also says 14 grams of ADDED SUGARS.

This is where it can get confusing, but also VERY IMPORTANT!!

ADDED SUGARS means there are 14 grams of sugar they PUMP into this yogurt. Now, yogurt is considered a carbohydrate, which is just a fancy term for sugar. Naturally, dairy contains sugars, specifically called lactose.

If this yogurt has 19 total grams of sugar, that means, this single serving contains 5 grams of naturally occurring sugars (lactose) and 14 grams of ADDED SUGARS. Many companies add extra sugar to foods so it can taste better. Plain yogurt is generally bitter, but the ADDED SUGARS help make it sweeter, so more people will buy the product.

So, if you are someone who is trying to lose weight, sure yogurt is a great food to have, just look for ones that contain lower amounts of sugar.

Remember, there is a difference between natural sugars and ADDED SUGARS. Many fruit, vegetable, dairy, and grain-rich foods will contain natural sugars. Look at the label for any ADDED SUGARS and then check the ingredient list to mentions of sugars (maltose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, syrups).

3. Choose Between 2 Products

Now that we’ve discussed what to look for on labels, let’s put it all into practice. When you’re trying to choose the healthier option between two products, how do you come to a conclusion? Let’s practice with some examples:

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a food deemed healthy by the food industry. Many oatmeal products mention protein, whole grain, and gluten-free on their labels. While all of these buzz words make you think oatmeal is a great option for breakfast, let’s first look at the labels and see.

You will notice in this first product, all of the ingredients are easy to read and recognizable. There are less than 10 ingredients in the product, and they are all whole ingredients I could pick up from the store and make it myself. Now, let’s look at the sugar content.

Total sugars: 8 grams. This is not a lot of sugar, but you’ll notice of the 8 grams of sugar, all 8 grams are ADDED SUGARS. None of it is naturally occurring in the oats.

While 8 grams is not a terrible amount, all of the sugar in the product is added. If you have a packet of oatmeal and a high sugar yogurt for breakfast, now you are already up to 20+ grams of ADDED SUGAR in just two products. This doesn’t even include the high sugar coffee you have on the side!

Take a look at this popular brand of oatmeal. It has words like PROTEIN PACKED and WHOLE GRAINS. Taking a look at the label, I instantly notice the ingredients look a little less natural and whole than the previous brand we looked at. Then I notice each packet has 10 grams of sugar.

This label does not even offer you the “ADDED SUGARS” category. So how do you know if there are added sugars in this product? You have to look back at the ingredients label.

“cane sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, natural flavors”

These ingredients scream ADDED SUGAR (and a lot of it)

So which would I choose between these two oatmeals? Well, if I wanted more protein, I would choose the Kodiak Cakes brand while keeping in mind the 10 grams of sugar.

However, the BEST option would be to buy plain oats. Plain oats only have 1 ingredient and 1 gram of sugar.

Then you can add your own healthy ingredients for a MUCH cleaner and healthier breakfast. I like to add unsweetened almond milk and add-ins like apple and cinnamon, or peanut butter and a banana.

This will help you start your day off with low amounts of ADDED SUGARS and will help you feel even FULLER because of the fruit and healthy fats.

Protein Bars

Compare the ingredients between the two protein bars, and then take a look at the sugar content. Which option is the better option?

Hands down, I would choose the RX Bar.

Not only does the RX Bar have fewer and cleaner ingredients, but you will also notice the RX Bar does not contain any ADDED SUGARS. Yes, the bar contains 14 grams of sugar, but all of that sugar is naturally occurring in the dates (aka the fruit).

Peanut Butter

This first one has the ingredients: peanuts, cane sugar, palm oil. It has 3 grams of sugar but only one of those is ADDED SUGAR. It seems like a pretty healthy choice at first glance, but let’s look at this other peanut butter.

This one is unsalted and unsweetened. Notice the ingredients are fewer: just peanuts. It has 2 grams of total sugars and NO ADDED SUGARS. When choosing between the two products, this second option is the cleaner product.

Yogurt

Processed ingredients, 19 grams of sugar, 14 grams of ADDED SUGAR

This second yogurt has way less ADDED SUGAR than the first. I would pick the Fage brand and sweeten it up with honey and fruit.

Granola

Both granolas have natural ingredients and ADDED SUGAR. If I had to pick one, I would choose the Bear Naked Granola because it contains more ingredients that I can use to make granola at home (oats, honey, almonds, oil, coconut, raisins, etc.).

Mayo

My goal is to fill my body with more natural and less processed foods, so I would choose the avocado oil mayo over the soybean oil mayo.

I hope this post has helped you gain a better grasp of reading labels. Remember to first look at the ingredients to see what you are eating. Then to take it a step further, note the ADDED SUGARS hidden in the food. Choose foods with ingredients you can actually read, and that have low amounts of ADDED SUGARS.

Happy Sunday friends!

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