Over the years, humans have consistently grown in their understanding of food science. As a result, information about nutrition and healthy eating has become less murky, helping many people build clean, well-balanced relationships with food. Unfortunately, however, as the health food industry has grown, so have a variety of food “loopholes”.
As some companies work to save time or money on their products, they have begun to sneak in surprisingly unhealthy ingredients into healthy-seeming food. As a result, it can often be challenging to determine what food is truly healthy and what food only appears that way.
The best way to counter this movement; Learning how to read the ingredients label for good and bad ingredients!
The nutrition facts printed on the back of all packaged foods can illuminate and help weed out the junk from the good stuff. At the same time, food labels can appear confusing and misleading, and many people just don’t want to bother.
That’s why we put together this small list of ingredients you should be watching out for on your food labels. We’ll show you some of the ingredients to avoid at all costs and some of the healthy alternatives that you should actively search out. So if you’re ready to become a food label connoisseur, keep on reading!
To start things off, let’s look at the information and ingredients you want to find in your food. Though a single component amongst a sea of others won’t guarantee a healthy snack, looking for these options will steer you in the right direction.
Short Ingredient Lists
Before you look at each individual ingredient on a nutrition facts label, take a peek at how long the list itself is. This is a relatively recent trend, but not a bad thing to keep in the back of your mind when you’re shopping. As a general rule of thumb, ingredient lists with five or fewer ingredients will tend to be on the healthier side.
Popularized by food author and activist Michael Pollan, this “Five Ingredient” rule can help spot what foods are sneaking artificial flavorings, sweeteners, or fats into your food. The practice is also helpful in determining how much of each ingredient is in your food. Ingredients are listed by quantity, meaning the most influential ingredient in your food will most often be at the top of the list.
When determining between “what is junk food” and “what is healthy food,” looking at the percentages of the nutrition facts can be enormously helpful in making your decision. For example, you’ve likely seen the terms “high in,” “good source of,” and “excellent source of” on the nutrition label, but did you know those terms are regulated?
If food is “high in” something, such as fiber, you can know that your food contains 20% or more of your Daily Value of fiber. The same percentage applies to food labeled as an “excellent source of” something. If there is a “good source” of a nutrient on your label, that food contains 10-19 percent of the daily value for that nutrient.
Even learning those three simple percentages can help you read the label with more confidence and sort out the actual value of the nutrients you’re eating.
Now that you know how to sort through the essential ingredients, you can have a much easier time picking the good ones for you. In particular, you should seek out:
- Vitamin D
Naturally, this isn’t an exhaustive list of healthy ingredients, but focusing on these few key ingredients can make a world of difference in your food. Make sure to look for foods containing these nutrients, as well as foods that are an “excellent source of” these nutrients.
In general, we all know that fast food isn’t the healthiest, and heavily processed food is something to avoid, but what are the sneaky ingredients that you overlook at first? Despite the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) best efforts, many companies continue to find loopholes in their requirements. These ingredients can make it into a number of healthy foods, making it even more important to read the labels of all your store-bought packaged foods.
Trans fats are recognized as unhealthy fats, as they can raise your levels of bad cholesterol and lower your levels of good cholesterol. As such, many companies strive to advertise their products as “trans fat-free.” However, many products with this claim can still contain trans fats that can harm your health.
Trans fats can also go by the names of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. So even if a product is advertised as trans fat-free, check the ingredients list for these terms to make sure.
To make it easier to avoid hidden trans fats, look for foods that provide healthy fats, such as peanut butter, almond butter, chia seeds, olive oil, and even dark chocolate!
Figuring out the precise amounts of sugar in your food can sometimes be difficult, especially because sugar goes by several different names. The most notorious and well recognized of these names is “high fructose corn syrup,” but sugar can also be listed as:
- Corn syrup
- Fruit Juice concentrate
- Malt Sugar
Even more difficult to discern are sugar molecules, like fructose, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose, to name a few. Even healthy foods like trail mix and some flavored greek yogurts can have added sugar that you won’t necessarily notice. So be sure to read carefully!
This final category is less about ingredients and more about portion control. Every food label will designate how much food makes up a single serving, most commonly labeled as serving size. This is a valuable designation, and we highly recommend looking at the serving size before you eat food, so if you ignore it as many people still do, you’re not getting the correct information about your nutrition.
For nutrition labels, everything starts with the serving size. The other categories below it, like total fat, protein and fiber, sugar, calories, and nutrients, are based on the serving size, not the whole package. So you can see how easily someone can eat food thinking it’s healthy, only to discover that they were eating double the amount of food that was intended.
It may not seem like much, but following a serving size might make a big difference in your life!
At NuSkool, we’re constantly searching for ways to help people find their healthy path in life. We know firsthand how a healthy lifestyle can make waves of change in your life, and we’re here to set you on that path. Try adding our superfood, keto-friendly protein bars to your snack foods, dessert menus, and breakfast plans, and see how good healthy can taste! With no secret ingredients, and plenty of low-calorie, low-sugar taste, we’re confident you’ll love them.