Supermarket - food labels

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When shopping for food, many of us read an item’s nutritional label and the first thing we tend to do is check the calories, but this isn’t the right approach. A can of diet Coca-Cola has 0 calories and the equivalent milliliters of coconut water has 68 calories, is drinking a soft drink really better than coconut water? Of course not, and it’s not the same fuel for your body. Diet Coke contains aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and people who consume it often report headaches. We have to let go of this outdated system where we think calories are the end all be all indicator of health, and care more about eating nutrient-dense foods which have good calories, the kind that keep you energized and nourish your brain, muscles, skin, and entire body.

Restricting calories and trying to fuel up on diet foods to repress hunger is not a satisfying and longterm relationship we want to have with our bodies. Below is a food label to follow along. From now on, the first thing we are going to do when checking food labels is look at the ingredients. The ingredients are actually listed in order of quantity from greatest to smallest, so if the first ingredient is sugar it’s the highest quantity of content in that product— this gives us a great introspection into what each packaged food is made of. Many cereal brands who sell themselves as healthy, fit, and light have sugar listed as their third ingredient! You have to ask yourself, why would sugar exist in a product that promotes health and weight loss? Don’t be fooled by good marketing. Do your due diligence and check what you are about to put into your body.

Food label

Ingredients to stay away from:

  • Hydrogenated oil— on a chemical table, it’s closer to plastic than food, and has been linked as a cancer risk
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup or Corn Sugar— proven to increase the risk of obesity, liver damage, and diabetes (even amidst clever marketing campaigns to rebrand its image)
  • Synthetic dyes— unpronounceable names or even ones that sound nice like “Lake color blue” or “Yellow Lake” are simply dangerous for our health 

A great rule of thumb is, if you don’t know what the ingredients are don’t buy it! Staying close to natural ingredients is the safest option. As a health coach, my philosophy is that you are far better off having a plate of pasta than eating a low calorie and fat free meal made with artificial ingredients. Some people turn a blind eye to what they eat and how it links to their health. The rise in the number of people falling ill, being diagnosed with diabetes or cancer doesn’t come from the air but from our plates.

Supermarket - food labels

To read a food label:

  • Look at the serving size— usually they are divided into servings, so multiply it by the serving size for the total
  • Check the fat content– Fat is necessary and Unsaturated Fat is good for the body (Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated are both beneficial to reducing cholesterol levels and improving health). Keep an eye on Trans Fat and Saturated Fats, known to increase the risk of cancer among other diseases
  • Keep Cholesterol and Sodium levels low (Food labels do a good job of listing the percentages of nutrients represented for our daily recommended values. These, however, are all averages.)
  • Check the Carbohydrates— which are good for us! Many correlate Carbohydrates with pasta and bread, but actually those are simple carbs. Vegetables and fruits are also very high in dietary fiber, a type of Carbohydrates, which is very healthy
  • How much Protein?— we don’t need as much protein as we think, only about 40-60 grams per day depending on our lifestyle and exercise activity. Typically, our diets contain too much protein. 1 cup of beans has around the 15-40 grams of protein needed, and protein is also found in plant-based options
  • Look for the amount of vitamins and minerals— essential to support our health and beautiful bodies

I hope this article inspires you to take charge of your health and take control of what you eat. Sometimes we crave something indulgent we know is not the best option for us, but in moderation we can have it. The important factor is balance, and making healthy choices longterm. At the local supermarket, you’ll find peanuts that list sugar, salt, and hydrogenated oil right beside the same peanuts that are natural with no added ingredients. It’s simple to be conscious and swap for the natural option. You’ll soon discover it tastes way better anyways. After all, you are what you eat! Your body is your temple so take care of it, and not make it suffer.

* This article was contributed by Martina Avanzini, holistic health coach at Martinaturally.