How to read packaged food labels easier.

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Reading Time: 9 minutes(Last Updated On: January 29, 2018)

How to read packaged food labels easier.

Going to the supermarket when you are hungry or emotional you may end up getting a lot more foods in the junk category which is easy enough to do when a lot of what the store contains is overly processed items. If you want to increase your level of well-being, it is wise to make better food choices. You probably know the basics-eat less junk and have more healthy things. However, if you are the consumer who wants to buy more prepared food then how do you make more informed choices there are just so many logos, phrases, and deceit with labeling that it can get overwhelming. Let me share a few things with you to help you make more informed decisions in the future.

Added colors and flavors.

supermarket-949912_640Added colors: some are more natural, and some are just plain chemical. With even the physical ones it isn’t necessarily a safe option either. Sometimes only the number is listed like in the case of color 120(or is otherwise known by names such as carmine/cochineal)-its a red coloring made from insects and can cause an allergic reaction for some people. However there are safer alternatives to everything, but the food companies try to reduce costs and so go with the more cost effective options. It is important to let them know you want better choices. For example, beetroot is a better color alternative in some foods. Another example is colored 160a(beta-carotene) and 160b(annatto) they are both plant based, but the 160a is a better option but isn’t as used as much as 160b is more cost effective from the companies perspective. This shouldn’t be the deciding factor! 160b is known to cause a lot of discomforts and even severe reactions in people. Even if you don’t personally have reactions to such now why risk feeding it to yourself or your loved ones year after year when one time you may have a comprised immune system or lower food chemical tolerance and then feel the effects of all that build up? Let’s together make better food choices. If a color is needed for a packaged food that you want, choose the safer options available.

limone-sul-garda-337949_640Added flavors: This should be telling us something. If food needs to be added flavors to it, then it must have been processed a lot and so not a good thing to eat at all. Added flavors can mean anything as it is not listing what it takes to produce that flavor(unless it, of course, contains the standard allergens-then those allergens are declared). If you are fine with one product with added flavor in it-it doesn’t mean the next product you try with added flavors is going to be okay too as there are so many different flavors they have created that you could have a reaction to the next. Also, it is about the load on your body. Your body is doing its best with how you are treating it but feeding it stuff it has to figure out how to break down and keep you from being ill is not helping you be your optimal best. It is better to prepare foods that are more straightforward and natural and then add your seasonings like herbs and spices to it which promote health not take from it.

Low this and low that

beverage-cans-86982_640Low GI (glycemic index) refers to foods that have a slower, steadier pace to affect the blood sugar levels of a person. This is handy to know especially if you are someone who has health conditions which are affected by such like diabetes. Also, good for anyone who wants to keep their blood sugar more stable and avoid the ups and down of sugar spikes.

Low FODMAP: FODMAP is an abbreviation for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. There is a broad range of foods that are classified into these categories. Those who have digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS) have at least at one point been often recommended to follow such a diet which is mindful of reducing the amount of foods high in FODMAPS. Food that is low in FODMAPs is what the label is referring to. This could be helpful, but because a person isn’t affected with all the categories, it can be quite limiting. It is better especially if you are on such a diet for a longer period to look at other options to eat too. The more complicated a food list is, the more complications it can cause you. It is better to eat simpler foods that are right for you, and you can always start with the safer foods. Once your health is stronger than see how much of foods that are healthy (but are higher in FODMAPs) you can add into your diet a bit at a time to get more variety and nutrition into your life!

fruit-juices-667570_640No, no, free!

No added sugar: can still contain sugar from other sugary sources as there are all sorts of sugars. Also, another thing to watch is if they put in artificial sweeteners instead of sugar which is something to stay right away from!

No added salt: okay caution then so what did they add instead is what I now try to remember- as it may then have more sugar or preservatives added to it instead take a look at the listing.

Lactose-free (lactose is the sugar component in milk) doesn’t automatically mean it is dairy free as one might assume. As they can get away with saying lactose-free by adding the enzyme used to break down lactose by the body, it is called lactase. Adding this to milk for those who decide to drink cow’s milk still but have difficulty digesting it this may help them more but milk still has a lot of negative side effects and is not ethical to produce for human consumption. For anyone avoiding cow’s milk remember lactose-free doesn’t mean dairy free all the time.

Allergens declaration

candle-1080428_640There are some things that people can be/are allergic/have a food intolerance to. However, not all of those are listed so if you have or suspect that a particular food may be causing side effects its best to investigate further. In Australia, there are significant allergens that legally have to be declared if they are in the food or likely to have traces of it in(like via cross contamination). These are eggs, fish, milk, peanut, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. There is also requirements to declare gluten, royal jelly and for sulfite preservatives (if it is above a certain level it is to be reported too). So this is a broad range of allergens that must be listed legally. Some companies do voluntary declare other allergens/food sensitives-but not all do. So just because a product says allergy friendly/allergy free etc., Doesn’t mean its suitable for everyone. It should be used just as a highlight tool to take a further look at it and see if it is suitable or not.

Kosher/Halal

beer-414914_640Religious labels such as Kosher and Halal means that the food company has paid to get certified with the particular religious authority that their diet complies with the food policies of the religion. Food could still be considered as permitted by those religious groups members without a logo or certification, but the added logo gives some people added reassurance. Halal has to do with Islamic dietary law meaning food is permitted by their standards. With Kosher it says its suppose to follow Jewish food law. Some people who don’t follow those particular religions still use the logos as ways to determine what category type food might be in. Kosher is more strict than Halal. As Kosher can be divided into different categories further as particular kinds of foods are avoided more than Halal, and the combination of foods are taken into careful consideration. For the general consumer, this sort of labeling doesn’t serve many purposes. It would be better to look at how much real food product contains and try to have a whole food plant based ingredients diet instead with less chemical junk or animal foods added to it.

Serving suggestion

bag-1194960_640What the pictures on the packet look like doesn’t mean that is what the packaging contains exactly 100%. Often some pictures make the product look more appealing or at least different than it is. Look for the words (generally in small print on the front of the packet) stating the words “serving suggestion.” This means that it could be showing the product made up in some way or with added ingredients/other foods added to it. For example, a box of cereal has a bowl of cereal with milk and perhaps fruit added to it. You can probably assume without checking much more that the milk is what you add to it from another source, not in the packet. It is best to check the ingredients listing and product description to see what it is you should expect to be realistically purchasing in that package.

Picture perfect or not

lavander-products-1191908_640Now another thing is the way certain ingredients or nutritional claims are marketed. It might not be all that it seems if you are just looking at that first picture with words that may sound appealing but are just deceitful marketing tactics. If product gets your attention don’t just pick it up and put it straight away in your basket/trolley without knowing more information. Take a look further especially if you are selecting it for health reasons. However, its also good to know what you are having even if you are choosing to have something that you know would be junk food anyway-think what sort of thing are you trying to treat yourself too? There could be a healthier treat option available with less junk in it but still taste good. So it is worth taking a look further.

Percentages-how much are you getting what?

If a product claim is made from, let’s say: beans then the percentage amount of how much beans it contains needs to be listed in the ingredients list. Other ingredients that were not advertised but are part of the product are listed there too, but not necessarily with the percentages of amounts it contributes listed. A way to get a better understanding of just how much the other ingredients would be providing is to keep in mind the following: ingredients are listed with the highest contributing part first then in descending order with the last element should be the least contributing to the product’s content. With that in mind look at this example: a can of beans with 60% beans, water, and salt. The beans take up 60% with then 40% left for beverage-cans-1058702_640the other ingredients to be totaled up to. We are left to guess how that 40% is distributed between the water and salt.

Maths guess work

It works with other more complicated ingredient listings too-just do a bit of math to get an estimate of what an ingredient should total up to. If for example there is a product you are looking at with five ingredients listed total(say a biscuit) but only two amounts given. 50% wheat flour, sugar, 10% fruit, oil, gelling agent. The values you can work out approximately at least for the other amounts by doing the following: percentages listed adds up to 60%, so another 40% is left. By looking at where sugar is placed on this list(between the 50% wheat flour and the 10% fruit), you can see its percentage must be between those numbers. Which is less than 50% but more than 10%, which is 40 but because there are more ingredients later on in the list(the oil and gel)? It can only be a guess because some of that 40% need to be assigned to those ingredients further down on the list(which would either be the same as or less than 10% as the fruit is already 10%. To make this equation work one would assume the sugar be between 40% to 10%. With such limited information available it is not fair for the consumer to have to guess how much added sugar it contains-anywhere from 10% to 40%. Looking at the nutritional panel may just give you the total sugar calories from all sources listed(the fruit and sugar). However, by going by this guide if you are interested to know if one product is better than another that you might be comparing ingredients with at the shops you will be better informed.

Get answers, provide feedback

bottle-841431_640Is it worth it? Why bother? It is too complicated-yes it can be, and that is what they are counting on a lot of the time just putting the bare needed legal requirements for labeling out there and hope the majority of people won’t bother trying to figure out the rest. If this bothers you, there are some things you could do including You could always contact a company for more information too that they didn’t provide on the packet already or just to get more clarification if that is what you wish. It can be a bit of a hassle but if it is something you want to buy regularly then perhaps it might be worth putting that bit more effort in, and the food companies could do with more consumer feedback about better labeling. It would be so much easier if they were producing more clearer labeling for the everyday consumer.

Concentrated reconstituted juice

Now another thing that is not all that it seems is packaged juice. Fruit juice concentrate and reconstituted juice what does that even mean you may ask? To get a juice concentrated it has a lot of its water taken out of it for the sake of reduced costs in transportation and storage. To get it back to its drinkable state it is reconstituted which means adding water back into it and then things like artificially adding vitamins back to it that were lost and so flavors too because it is messed around with. Doesn’t sound so naturally right for you after all that processing does it? Better just make your own freshly juiced fruits and veggies at home if you want to juice.

canned-food-570114_640Some tips

It is much better to prepare your food as much as possible. Even if you do there is still items that are packaged that are quite good to include still that avoid a lot of all these additives and processes. Of course, there is the fresh produce section with fruit and vegetables but within the store, you can still find lots more options if you know where to look it will be easier. Try getting nuts and seeds-plain ones no additives in the baking aisle or at times in produce section too. You can find plain oats in the cereal aisle and can make your muesli that way. Get some brown rice add some canned beans(with fewer additives as possible)and there are legumes packets in the soup aisle there too. The freezer section of a lot of supermarkets contains things like frozen vegetables and fruit get the ones that are 100% with no additives. You can always add your seasonings of herbs and spices later(which also can be found in-store).

Encouragement

lavender-products-616444_640I hope by now you can see that even with the short glimpse into the labeling world that I have shared my insights with you about that you can be a more informed consumer, to feel more empowered to make better choices, to affect change even on a personal dietary level and hopefully also beyond that too. The more of us that demand better foods to be available the more there will be. It is a supply and demand issue. It is in our hands to make the world a healthier and happier place. Food is something we all need to survive. The big corporations know that. Let’s take our power back even one better food choice at a time so we can thrive not just survive! 🙂

by Tabitha Culph

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