That Says What? What To Look For In Food Labels

    Between work, racing kids to school and activities and your own social calendar, finding the time to make home cooked meals can be difficult.

    An optimal diet is one rich in organic produce, grass fed meats, wild seafood and quality fats. But there are times when you are faced with the choice of eating a less than desirable meal or not eating at all. When your schedule pushes you to reach for a pre-packaged food product, here are a few tips to help you navigate the labels.

    Any time you reach for a prepackaged food, it is important to read beyond the nutrition facts and into the ingredient listing. A product can have a fairly attractive nutrition facts panel – low (or zero) sugar, high protein content, moderate calorie count – but can have harmful ingredients lurking within. Five ingredients to look out for:

    • Partially hydrogenated oils

    Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats in many products; however, this is not necessarily transparent on the nutrition facts panel. Products that incorporate under a half a gram of trans fat per serving (.49g) can claim to be trans-fat free. If there are 8 servings in a package, you may be ingesting close to 4g of artery-clogging trans fats without even knowing it. Look for partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient fact panel. If you see it, put it down.  

    • Food dyes

    Dyes such as blue 1 & 2, red 3 & 40, and yellow 5 & 6, have been linked to countless health concerns. Blue 1 has been linked to the inhibition of nerve cell development, red 3 is known to cause tumors, and yellow 5 has been linked to hyperactivity in children.

    • Artificial sweeteners

    Artificial sweeteners including sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame may hide sugar grams from the nutrition listing, but they do more harm than good for your overall health. Additionally, studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can actually make people more likely to keep eating sweets. It is best to incorporate sweetness from whole food sources, such as fruits.

    • Refined sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

    Refined sugars have been linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders. HFCS, a highly processed form of glucose converted into fructose, is especially important to cut out of your diet completely.

    • Artificial preservatives

    Artificial preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytolune (BHT) are used to extend shelf life. BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants generally used to keep fats from becoming rancid and are found on the ingredient listings of a wide range of common food products, including granola bars, chips, cereals and gum. These compounds have been investigated for impacting the neurological system of the brain, altering behavior, and as potential carcinogens.

    Whenever possible, instead of turning to prepackaged foods filled with preservatives and artificial ingredients, seek out whole food ingredients that provide your body with nutrients to fuel your lifestyle – “functional” ingredients. Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body. Calories devoid of nutrients do not help you optimize your health; in fact, they do just the contrary.

    About The Author: Stephanie Baker believes that good health is seeded in the most intimate phase of life – the beginning. Raised in a family of physicians, Stephanie developed a passion for health at an early age and has sought to direct her professional pursuits at the intersection of health and business. In her most recent role as a Senior Consultant within PwC’s Personalized Medicine practice, she developed new business models keyed towards driving the promise of personalized medicine into the clinic.  Through her work as the owner of CredibleCravings, Stephanie hopes to inspire healthy nutritional choices and lifestyle changes that improve the health of our next generation.

    Published by WholeFoods Magazine Online, 6/16/2014.