Decoding Nutrition Labels: Your Guide to Smart Shopping
Navigating the supermarket aisles can be overwhelming, especially when faced with rows of packaged foods each boasting its own nutrition label. It's crucial to arm yourself with the knowledge needed to make informed choices. To simplify the process, here are some key tips to follow when reading a nutrition label before you make the decision to add-to-cart.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal: When you glance at the "energy" section on a nutrition label, remember that it represents the total calories derived from protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and dietary fibre. However, not all calories are of equal value. A processed chocolate bar could have the same amount of calories as a tin of tuna that’s rich in protein and many vitamins and minerals such as Omegas, B-Complex Vitamins, Vitamins A and D! What really matters is counting nutrients.
Simplicity Is Key: Packaged foods can be notorious for having lengthy and complex ingredient lists. An excellent rule of thumb is to opt for items with fewer than 10 ingredients. Less is more in this case. Strive to consume foods that remain as close to their natural state as possible to maximise their nutritional benefits.
Know Your Ingredients: Have you ever heard the advice, "If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it"? These guidelines are exceptionally valuable when you're deciphering a food label. In today's food industry, there's a profusion of additives, preservatives, and artificial colours that are best left untouched. For example, sugar goes by more than 50 aliases, including dextrose, fructose, glucose, and sucrose.
Watch Your Sodium Intake: Cured meats, chips, pizza, and crackers can be major culprits when it comes to salt and sodium content. Health experts recommend limiting your daily sodium intake to 2,300mg (equivalent to about 1 tablespoon).
Beware of Marketing Hype: Words like "natural," "organic," and "cholesterol-free" on packaging can be enticing, but they may not always mean what you think. The regulations regarding health claims vary globally. To make informed choices, focus on the ingredients list and nutritional panel rather than relying solely on marketing terminology.
Steer Clear of Undesirable Ingredients: Certain additives should raise red flags when you spot them on a nutrition label:
- MSG – a chemical flavour enhancer present in numerous sauces and dressings.
- Hidden sugars – these go by various names, including glucose, lactose, sucrose, dextrose, and many more.
- Nitrates/nitrites – often found in processed meats.
- Artificial colours and dyes – examples include Red 3, Blue 1 & 2, Yellow 6, and Green 3.
- Hydrogenated oils – high in trans fats and used to extend the shelf life of food.
YOUR REMINDER -
For a more nourishing approach, challenge yourself to skip the packaged and processed foods at the supermarket altogether. Instead, explore your local farmer's market to find local, seasonal fare, or try and shop the outer aisles only at your supermarket.
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