Understanding What Food Labels Tell You
Dear Dr. Cutler,
I am doing my best to eat healthier, but with my hectic schedule, it’s about impossible to avoid eating at least some foods that are packaged. Since I am trying to eat as healthy as I can, I could really use some training on how to read food labels and ingredients lists. Could you provide me with some tips that will help me know what I’m putting in my mouth?
You are so right… you have to be very cautious with packaged foods because any food that has a long shelf life has lost most of its vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. And unfortunately, synthetic chemicals such as preservatives, dyes and artificial flavorings have been added.
When you read a packaged food label, you’re given the amount of fat, carbohydrates, proteins, sodium and dietary fiber. But you’re not given the nutrient-to-calorie ratio which makes it difficult to tell how nutritious a food is. So you must look at these other factors…
- Always read the Ingredients List because the Nutrition Facts list is usually worthless. The ingredients are listed by weight, so the most prominent ingredient comes first.
- The healthiest foods are the ones that are the highest in fiber and lowest in cholesterol and sugars.
- Pay attention to whether the food contains chemical additives, synthetic vitamins, refined sugars and processed oils.
- Avoid foods in which any of the first ingredients are high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar or hydrogenated oil.
- Check to see if the unhealthy ingredients are low on the list—the further down they are, the better.
- Sugar-free foods might still contain sugar alcohols, but these are lower glycemic sugars.
- Sodium chloride (salt) can cause swelling and a jump in blood pressure, but it’s usually temporary.
- Fiber that’s been heated or processed is not as good for you as fiber from fresh whole foods.
- Unless they come from omega-3 fatty acids, fats are calorie-dense, nutrient-poor and cause you to gain weight.
No matter how healthy a packaged food may appear, it’s no substitute for living foods that are loaded with micronutrients. If you take the time to plan healthy meals ahead of time it can help when you’re busy or traveling. By preparing salads and fresh fruits, you will do your body a world of good. By adding in whole grains and nuts you can make your own healthy packaged meals by placing them in bags and containers for quick access.
About the author
Michael Cutler, M.D. is a board-certified family physician with 18 years experience specializing in chronic degenerative diseases, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
A graduate of Brigham Young University, Tulane Medical School and Natividad Medical Center Family Practice Residency in Salinas, Calif., he serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems.
Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and the Founder and Editor of Easy Health Options™ newsletter—a leading health advisory service on natural healing therapies and nutrients and is Medical Advisor for True Health™—America's #1 source for doctor-formulated nutrients that heal.
For more information visit www.truehealth.com.