Are You Being Mislead By Food Labels?
Organic. All Natural. Non-GMO. Pasture Raised. Superfood. Gluten-Free. Grass-Fed. Made with Real Ingredients.
There are certainly a lot of buzz words found on many packaged “healthy” foods. One question I get asked repeatedly is “Dr. Ernst – is THIS (insert any food item) good to eat?” Read below and you will find out how I scan over any food label – especially the “healthy ones” to determine if its worthy of consumption.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when navigating the grocery aisles is reading the front cover – this is where all the marketing dollars are spent. You will more than likely believe it’s a healthy food simply b/c of the claims made on the front. But the secret to a food’s quality is always found on the back – in the nutrition label and within the ingredients.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a revised Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. They wanted the new label to make it easier for you to make healthy choices – but in reality, it’s just as complicated. Here are a few tips.
- Serving size. Always start here – because any #s you see below must be multiplied by the serving size. The label may say, “Only 5g of sugar,” but if there are 10 servings per container – that’s 50 grams! (and chances are you would eat the entire bag/box yourself in one sitting). You will find this at the very top of the label
- Total Fat: This is the 2nd most important thing to look at – mostly because healthy fats are your friend. Yes, it’s important to know where the fats are coming from (check the ingredients), but generally speaking, you want the fats to be the highest in grams (when compared to proteins and carbohydrates). If fat grams are lower than protein or carbohydrates – Warning! It’s not a true health food.
- Saturated Fat: Once thought to be bad fat, new research now shows this fat is extremely beneficial if it’s plant-sourced. Coconut oil is high in saturated fats that have been proven to be antiviral, bacterial, fungal and even anti-inflammatory. Don’t be afraid of plant saturated fats.
- Trans fat — The only healthy amount of trans fat is ZERO. Vegetable oils and other man-made oils are used to extend shelf life but will shorten your life as it is these fats that are linked to heart disease and inflammation.
- Protein — The 3rd most important portion of a food label. Protein grams should be less than fat, but more than carbohydrates (Ideally 50% less than fat while 50% more than total carbohydrates). If the protein content is more than 20 grams per serving or is higher in gram count than carbs or fats – buyer beware! While proteins are important for the creation of enzymes, hormones, bone and muscle formation – you can’t store proteins. 50-60% of proteins consumed are converted directly into glucose 3-4 hours after consumption and these delayed blood sugars can be stored as fat!
- Total carbohydrates – The 4th most important portion of a food label. This accounts for any and all forms of sugar, including starch and dietary fiber, within one serving. This number is important to know because you must subtract the fiber (usually listed just under total carbs) from this number to find the true net-carb (i.e. actual sugar content per serving).
- Dietary Fiber: While fiber is certainly important, warning – it’s a carbohydrate, but one that does not raise your blood sugar. In fact, fiber often lowers blood sugar. Ideally, the more fiber within a serving the better as it lowers the net carbohydrate amount. If the fiber content is zero – WARNING – the total carbohydrate gram count now equals the true sugar content per serving.
- Total sugars — this is the complete amount of “sugar” in one serving, including added and free sugars. Added sugar would be an ingredient that is a sugar (ends on “-ose” or “-rin”) Free sugars are those that naturally occur within an ingredient (i.e. the sugar naturally found in any ingredient).
- Net-Carbs – This WILL NOT BE LISTED ON THE LABEL – but it is one number you must calculate. It’s simply Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Net Carb. This is the true amount of sugar found in each serving. Again remember – multiply this by the serving size to find the total amount of sugar in the entire item/can/box/bag. Ideally, this number should be as low as possible, or nothing beyond 10g total. Remember – a really healthy food will have more fat than protein, more protein than net carbs and ideally zero to 10g net carbs max per entire item.
Don’t Stop at The Nutrition Label – Ingredients Are Equally as Important
Just because your food may pass the “Fat/Protein/Carb” inspection doesn’t instantly make it a superfood. Some specific things to look for include:
- Number of Ingredients: A true healthy food will have only a few ingredients – usually 10 or less. If you see an ingredient list a mile long with items you can’t pronounce – chances are you shouldn’t be eating it!
- Organic Food Ingredients: Organic foods will carry little to no pesticides or other toxins found in conventional foods. Organic foods are now also required to be non-GMO – i.e. the farmers are not allowed to grow GMO seeds in an organic environment.
- Types of Fats: As mentioned fat is healthy when it comes from plants, but not all plants are healthy fats. Watch out for canola, soy, corn, cottonseed or sesame seed oil – while plant fats are highly processed and highly inflammatory.
- Grain Ingredients: Watch out for whole grains, whole wheat, corn, rice, oats and/or soy. All grains contain gluten – though not the same as wheat gluten, but still gluten all the same. Corn gluten is especially dangerous and it’s found in the majority of “gluten-free” food items.