Health Coach in the making

Don’t be fooled by food labels!

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? Are you enjoying the instant switch to holiday mode that happened on November 1? I don’t remember it being like that when I was kid, but I’m totally fine with it!

Do you enjoy grocery shopping? I didn’t always, but recently I’ve really come to love the routine of planning our meals for the week and going to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near your house, my heart breaks for you! The employees are so pleasant, it actually makes grocery shopping enjoyable! I love wandering the aisles and discovering new products; the challenge is knowing how to read new labels and avoiding junky or mysterious ingredients.

So let’s talk about grocery labels, which ones are helpful, and which ones are marketing ploys we should ignore.  First, let’s start with some tricky, gimmicky labels that we want to avoid when we’re eating a whole food based diet.  These labels may sound healthy, but they’re really just marketing ploys to hide sneaky sugars and lots of chemical processing.

‘Low Fat’, ‘Reduced Fat’, and ‘Fat Free’ – Y’all, if you haven’t heard this yet, let me be the first to tell you: eating fat does not make you fat.  I’ll say it one more time in case you missed it: eating fat does not make you fat.  Let’s move past the 90’s diet dogma, and put quality, grass fed butter and ghee back in our kitchens!  That being said, there’s nothing wrong with foods that are naturally low in fat (like vegetables!) because they’re supposed to be that way.

Foods that are intentionally altered to contain less fat usually mean they contain more sugar!  When manufacturers take the fat out of a product, they replace it with sugar so that we still want to eat their “food”.  The ingredient label may not say “sugar” right on it, but there’s lots of sneaky words like dextrose, maltose, fructose, etc. that are also added sugars.

‘All Natural’ – Not what you expected to see on this list?  Did you know that this label doesn’t actually mean much of anything?  There’s no regulation around this term, which means that brands can interpret the definition of “natural” to mean whatever they want it to mean.  Always be sure to read the ingredient list instead of trusting the front label!  Chances are, if a brand feels the need to tell you their food is natural, then it’s probably not.

‘Diet’ or ‘Sugar Free’ – these labels are not only misleading, but they mess with our heads and can trick us into overeating because we think a food is healthy or at the very least, not harmful.  I know I’m not the only one who’s eaten 2 or more of those reduced calorie snack-pack cookies because I was able to justify in my head that it was better than eating regular cookies!  Another problem with these labels is that even though there may not be any calories from traditional white sugar, doesn’t mean there’s no sugar at all.

These products frequently use chemical sweeteners like aspartame, and there is a lot of controversy around this particular sweetener and whether or not if as negative affects to our health.  One thing that everyone agrees on is that is significantly sweeter than traditional white sugar, without the calories.  Our bodies need calories to function, so when we eat low calorie foods that are hyper sweet, we’re tricking our brains into thinking that our bodies are being nourished.  You’ll find yourself wanting more and more of the ‘sugar free’ treat because your brain is getting pleasure from the sweet taste, but your body isn’t getting any nourishment since it’s decidedly lacking in calories or nutrients.

The bottom line here is if you want something sweet (or if you’re a fan of soda) it’s better to enjoy a smaller amount of the real thing, than a larger amount of processed sweeteners and chemicals.

assorted assortment booth boxes
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on

So now that we know some of the trickier labels that aren’t doing us any favors, let’s talk about what I do look for when I’m shopping!

‘Organic’ – This one can honestly go either way depending on what kind of food is being labeled, but for the most part, organic products are preferable to conventional.  I look for organic on my veggies and some pantry items (like pasta sauce) because there are strict standards for this label, and I can trust that the veggies and ingredients were grown and processed without chemical fertilizers.  The only time it doesn’t really matter is on meat labels.  Organic chickens can still be confined and fed the incorrect diet, it’s just a small step up from conventionally raised chickens.

‘Certified Paleo’ – I don’t necessarily follow a paleo diet, but I trust this label when it comes to snacks or pantry items that have high quality ingredients and production methods.

‘Certified Humane’This label is something I like to see on meat, egg, and dairy labels.  It promotes kinder, humane practices from birth to slaughter, which means no factory farming!  They have strict standards for every step of an animal’s life, so it takes some of the guess work out of shopping.

‘Whole30 Approved’ – Again, I don’t follow the Whole30 principals, but they have very strict standards and only put their name on brands that they trust.  It takes the guesswork out of items like dressings, condiments, and even some restaurants!  Seeing this label means that I know they’re using quality ingredients, and aren’t hiding any sneaky sugars or oils.

I was going to include how to shop for meat, but I think this is enough information for one day! The bottom line here is to always read the ingredient label, and make sure you’re comfortable with everything on that list before you put it in your cart.  I’ll write up a part two with shopping tips for meat later in the month.  Let me know if this is helpful, and what other tips and tricks you want to learn!

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