Many of my clients ask if I can teach them how to read food labels. What do I look for?What should I avoid? What’s hidden in those scientific words? What ’s the nutrition content? Glycemic index? Carbohydrate density?
Clearly lots of questions. You can take classes on this subject. There are guides on how to read food labels. There are youtube videos. It’s a complicated, confusing thing — label reading.
The first thing that turns me off of label reading is the math. The calculations, percentages, figuring, summing and totalling. It’s one of my fundamental beliefs – we should never have to do math when it comes to our food and eating. The two just don’t go together in my world. Math really doesn’t have much of a place in any area of my world, but most definitely not around food!
The real reason I don’t believe in label reading is that the foods I think we should be eating the most of, don’t have labels.
Fruits, veggies, quality sourced animal proteins, eggs, seeds and nuts, fresh herbs and spices — most real whole foods don’t come in packages and therefore don’t have labels to decipher.
However, there is one group of labels you should pay attention to — the little stickers on fruits and vegetables. These do have some information we want to take note of. If the number on the sticker starts with a 4 it’s conventionally grown. This means the farmer used chemical fertilizers, synthetic insecticides and herbicides and residues are present on your produce.
If the sticker starts with a 9 it means it’s organic. While there are many that don’t believe in the standards of organic, I’m confident that if it’s certified organic the farmer has used natural methods and products and there are no genetically modified organisms present.
If you are filling your cart up with mostly packaged processed foods, you might need a lesson in label reading. My advice is to hit the farmers market instead and leave all of that packaging and deciphering to the food scientists and marketers in the factories and plants. Choose non-labelled food and your confusion is resolved. You’re good to go. Most of what you eat should contain one ingredient. The whole food that it is. An apple. An egg. A carrot. A cabbage. A fish. A steak. Real whole foods. One ingredient.
I love some of the guidelines, writer Michael Pollan suggests in his book, Food Rules.
Here are my 10 favourite Pollan’s food rules you can take along to the supermarket with you:
1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store.
4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. You want food that will go bad after a few days on the counter.
5. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. It’s not real food.
6. Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
7. Avoid food products that have some form of sugar (or sweetener listed among) the top three ingredients.
8. Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low fat” or “nonfat” in their names.
9. Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature
10. Don’t ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.
Keep it real, whole and simple!
*This post was originally published in the Herald Community on May 7, 2014