Nutrition: How To Read Food Labels

17 Jul

how to read food labelWe Americans have a trust problem – in that we trust the marketing of food companies entirely too much.

Many blame the obesity and diabetes crises on “personal responsibility” – that those who suffer from these illnesses would see their diseases vanish if they simply ate less. While portion control is part of the strategy to avoid and treat these diseases, the problem runs much deeper than that. The real problem is with processed foods and the way food companies have designed them to manipulate your body’s responses.

As described in the book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us, every food scientist employed by the big food companies has a directive to create products that are so irresistible that a) you can’t stop eating them and b) next time you shop you’ll buy them again. And this is all too often the case, as we all know. Consumers also frequently believe that if the product is advertised as “healthful”, it is, due to the trust we inherently place in any statement repeated to us over and over again. But these claims are usually not truthful – in fact, rarely so. Foods in boxes, bags, and cans are necessarily loaded ( and I mean LOADED) with sugar, salt, and/or fat to hide the bitter tastes of ingredients added to extend their shelf life or help their texture. Complicating the issue is that food labels list such small serving sizes that the product ingredients appear not at all bad. But who eats only 1/2 cup of cereal or just one ounce of potato chips? The sodium and sugar load adds up very quickly, as do the pounds and potential for diabetes, obesity, heart disease, digestive problems, and many other illnesses.

The only real protection any of us has is to take it upon ourselves to learn how to interpret food labels, and to actually read them before buying anything boxed, bagged, or canned. Or we can avoid these processed foods altogether and eat only fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and whole grains.  This last route is optimum for best health, but in this age of 24/7 food availability and being in perpetual “go” mode, we realize that probably won’t be the choice for most.

Dr Oz does a great job of explaining in simple terms how to read food labels and which ingredients to always avoid in snippets from his guest appearances on Oprah here and here. The few minutes you spend viewing them could make a big difference in your health.

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