How To Read A Nutrition Label: Is It Food Or Poison?

Shopping for wholesome quality food doesn't have to be hard.

How To Understand The Nutrition Label

Once I learned how to read what was in my food, my diet completely changed. You won’t believe how many poisons are in our foods that the FDA recognizes as safe. (Although they’re banned in other countries!) This simple skill was life changing for me and I love the feeling of being in control of what I put inside my body.

There are plenty of important things to look at when reading a label. I will go over them all with you. Then, I’ll explain my process of reading it when purchasing foods. I can guarantee that learning how to read a nutrition label will change your life and your health for the better!

What Is The Serving Size?

The serving size tells you the amount of food you need to eat to obtain all the nutrients/toxins listed below. Usually the serving size is an amount that’s easy to measure like a cup or a package.

Here’s an example of sizes: if the serving size is 1 cup and there’s 2 servings per container, that means you’ll be eating 2 cups per container. This means you’ll be consuming 2x the nutrients on the label if you eat the whole thing. It’s pretty simple. Ask yourself, “How many servings am I eating?”

Taking note of the serving size is important because if there’s 16 grams of sugar per serving, and 2 servings per container, you’d be eating 32 grams of sugar if you consume the whole thing. Just be cautious and check the serving size before eating.

Reading the food label is easy!

How Many Calories Per Serving?

People are so caught up with counting calories because they can determine if you gain weight or lose weight. An average diet consists of 2,000 calories. By eating/drinking more than the recommended amount, you can gain weight. Also, if you consume less than the recommended amount, you can lose weight.

Measuring Calories

  • 40 or less calories is a low amount
  • 100 calories is average
  • 400 or more calories is high

Not all calories are created equal, though. Listen to what Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Pastor Rick Warren had to say about calories in their collaboration book that became a #1 New York Times Bestseller called “The Daniel Plan“:

Let’s compare a 20-ounce soda with 240 calories to the equivalent number of calories from broccoli (which is about 7.5 cups). The soda has no fiber and no vitamins or minerals, but has 15 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, and phosphoric acid – which causes osteoporosis. The sugar in the soda spikes your insulin, causes a fatty liver, increases triglycerides, lowers good cholesterol, raises bad cholesterol, increases cortisol (the stress hormone), and causes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

The broccoli (if you could actually eat the 7.5 cups!) has the same number of calories but about 1/2 teaspoon natural sugar and 35 grams fiber and is rich in vitamins and minerals, including folate and magnesium. Broccoli also contains powerful phytonutrients, which are healing plant compounds that help reduce your risk of cancer and boost your detoxification capacity. And broccoli has very little ability to raise your blood sugar. In fact, when it enters your body, the broccoli has the exact opposite effect of the soda. It creates health rather than destroys it. Same calories – very different results.

Clearly, all calories are not the same. It is a matter of quality.

Calories are not all the same. The calories in broccoli promote health while the calories in soda damage your health.

Does It Contain Vitamins And Healthy Minerals?

These are the nutrients you should aim for:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Fiber

The average American does not eat enough of these listed above. However, these ingredients promote health. For example, calcium fights the occurrence of osteoporosis and fiber helps keep bowel functions healthy.

These are the things you should try to avoid:

  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Sodium
  • Cholesterol

Keep your daily intake as low as possible of these ingredients for a healthy, balanced diet. Too much of these can increase your risk for developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.


 

Daily Value Percentages

The daily value percentages are pretty easy to understand. All of the percentages are based off of a 2,000 calorie diet. The percentage tells you how much of that substance is in that food compared to your recommended daily intake amount.

For example, if the sugar says 20% then that serving size contains 20% of all the sugar you should eat in a day. Eating 5 servings will put you at your daily limit of sugar a day. That’s why it’s important that you are careful and watch what you are eating. Too much of a bad ingredient can put you at risk for many illnesses and diseases.

To be honest, I don’t look at the daily value percentages. I know how much of each substance I should be eating. Therefore, all I have to do is look at the amount in each serving to know if I should eat it or not. They’re both effective methods.

If you are using the percentages, remember that 5% is low compared to a high 20%. Strive for high amounts of vitamins and low amounts of saturate fat, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol.

If you don't recognize it as an ingredient, your body won't either.Click To Tweet

Ingredients To Avoid Like The Plague

Many candies are only sugar loaded with artificial dyes. It's horrible.

Did you know that many of the foods that are approved by the FDA are actually banned in other countries? Yes, it’s true! There are many foods that do incredible harm to us, yet the ones who are supposed to protect us allow these foods to be fed to the people of this nation and our children. It’s no wonder 160 million Americans are obese, 75 million suffer from high blood pressure, and 8 in 10 people have a leaky gut. [1, 2]

Stay away from these deadly toxins:

Artificial dyes-

  • Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) Banned in Norway and Austria due to cancer causing effects.
  • Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow) Banned in Norway and Finland because it contains carcinogenics.
  • Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue) This product is banned in Norway, Finland and France.
  • Blue 2 (Indigo Carmine) Prohibited in Norway.
  • Red 40 (Allura Red) This is banned in Europe because of hyperactivity caused in children.

All the artificial dyes listed above create hyperactivity and reduced focus ability in children and contain cancer causing agents. These can be found in many American foods such as candies, Mac & Cheese, cakes, cereals, NutriGrain bars, and so much more. Please read your ingredient labels and stay away from these toxins!

High Fructose Corn Syrup-

This artificial, created substance causes many illnesses and diseases such as

  • Cancer
  • Leaky Guy
  • Inflammation
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease

To find out more about high fructose corn syrup, click here.

Monosodium Glutemate (MSG)-

Chips contain MSG- one of the very harmful ingredients you should strive to stay away from!

MSG causes headaches, brain fog, obesity rates, and insulin production. It makes you feel hungry after you eat causing you to eat more. The increase of insulin leads to lots of belly fat. Here are some hidden names for MSG:

  • Any “flavoring” or “flavors”
  • Anything containing “enzymes”
  • Anything with the word “glutamate” in it
  • Autolyzed plant protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Barley malt
  • Brouillon
  • Carrageenan
  • Gelatin
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic acid sodium
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
  • Hyrdolyzed vegetable protein (HYP)
  • Malt extract
  • Maltodextrin
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Natural seasonings
  • Protease
  • Stock
  • Textured protein
  • Umami
  • Vegetable protein extract
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast food or nutrient.

All of these ingredients contain MSG. If you’re finding yourself hungry shortly after eating, check the food labels.

Chemicals-

My family and I don’t shop at certain places because I know their foods are loaded with chemicals, like Dollar Tree or Save-a-lot. The goal is to eat real, whole foods. Many foods were cooked up in a science lab and only represent real foods. That’s right! They aren’t foods at all!

“I had to eat an MRE – meals ready to eat – while I was working after the earthquake in Haiti. When I read the label of the chicken and dumplings, there were more than 500 ingredients. I recognized almost none of them and couldn’t pronounce most of them. In fact, I couldn’t find chicken on the label – it was a ‘chicken-like substance.'”

-Dr. Hyman

Here’s simple rule of thumb: If it takes longer to read the ingredients than it does to eat it, then don’t eat it. Look for a product with 5 ingredients or less that you recognize.

Hydrogenated oils-

These are otherwise known as trans fats. Here are some of the proven health effects of trans fats:

  • Hardened arteries
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Calcified arteries
  • Inflammation of the brain
  • Memory loss
  • Dementia
  • Cell damage
  • Cancer
  • Reduced hormone production

Try to eliminate trans fat from your diet altogether. If you see hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list, run far away! To find out more about trans fats, click here.

Canola oil (or vegetable oil)-

If you see canola oil listed on the label of any product, run far away!

Rapeseed oil AKA canola oil is extremely toxic to human health and should never be consumed by us. It’s used as a pesticide, triggered mad cow disease in animals, and contains the poisonous chemical hexane. To find out more about canola oil, click here.

Nutrition Terms And Claims

As you begin paying more attention to the foods you eat, you’ll notice certain foods have health claims on them. We’ll go over each one and discuss exactly what they mean.

Reduced: Less than at least 25% of calories or the specified ingredient than the average product.

Low cholesterol: Less than 20 milligrams and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.

Fat/Sugar Free: .5 grams or less of fat or sugar per serving.

Calorie free: Each serving contains less than 5 calories.

Low calorie: Each serving contains 40 calories or less.

Low sodium: Less than 140 milligrams per serving.

High in: Contains 20% or more of the recommended Daily Value of a specific nutrient per serving.

Good source of: Contains 10-19% of the Daily Value of a specific nutrient per serving.

I certainly don’t expect you to memorize these. However, I thought I’d list them as a reference for the next time you’re out shopping.


 

Deceptive Nutritious Claims

Many food companies label the front of packages with amazing claims that they think people will believe and buy. However, there are very loose rules about how these terms can be used. Therefore, most of these foods are actually not that great for you. Be informed and be healthy!

Fat-free or sugar-free: If a product claims to have zero sugar, you can almost be sure there is some sort of artificial sweetener in the ingredients. The fake sugars can be more dangerous than the real stuff. Read the ingredient label to see if you notice anything such as acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and aspartame. The only beneficial sweeteners are raw honey and stevia.

Also, while some fats are extremely unhealthy to the human body, some are not. You definitely want to eat more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Organically grown, no artificial ingredients, or pesticide-free: The greatest quality of real organic foods have been USDA approved. Look for some indication that they have approved this product.

Fruit drink: You should look for packages that say, “100% fruit juice”. Anything less has close to no real fruit and contains a bunch of added sugar.

Enriched, fortified, added, plus, and extra: These words will always mean processed. Foods lose a lot of nutrients this way and make them no longer worth consuming. You want something 100% whole wheat.

Made with multi-grains, wheat, or rye: Only a little bit of these products are whole wheat. Through the processing procedure, many benefits of the food were lost. Instead, always look for 100% whole wheat products. Don’t even buy ‘wheat bread’. It must be 100% whole wheat.

Natural: This claim can be on anything that started as a natural ingredient. However, after processing the products there can be no resemblance to its former self. Look for “No Preservatives” and “100% All Natural”.

My Strategy For Reading Labels

I don’t just buy anything at the grocery store. My husband and I read every label before it goes into our cart. If the price is really low, there’s usually a reason for it. We don’t mind spending extra for our health. Plus, Americans spend millions per year on medicines to fight illnesses and disease that could’ve been prevented by healthy eating.

As much as 80% of all American diseases are caused by the foods that we eat.

When I go food shopping, I don’t usually look at everything on the nutrition label. There are a few pieces I look at first to see if it passes my tests. This is my process:

Is The Sugar Level Dangerously High?

Too much sugar in your food is a bad thing.

I always look at the sugar amount first because high amounts of artificial sugar in one sitting makes me feel nauseous. I can eat a bunch of fruits, but one whole Gatorade bar makes me sick. Therefore, sugar levels are important to me and if it has more than 20 grams I more than likely will leave it on the shelf.

Sugar is so dangerous when consumed in high amounts. For that reason, you should limit how much you consume daily. Beware of sugar in disguise listed as any of the impostor nicknames:

  • Corn syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Glucose
  • Maltose
  • Dextrose

Also, foods are listed in order from highest quantity found in the product. This means the higher up on the list, the more of that ingredient found within the food.

How Much Sodium?

The next thing I would look at is the amount of sodium found in the product. Too much sodium in the body can lead to many health complications and when I eat too much, I feel like crap. The recommended daily intake of sodium is less than 1,500 mg per day. I try to keep my sodium intake as low as possible.

There are foods I avoid altogether such as sliced ham (around 300 mg per slice), pickles (around 500mg per spear), and chips. Since I don’t have a diet rich in sodium, I’m very sensitive to salty foods. If it’s too salty, I simple won’t eat it. For example, the last time I ate Crunchy Cheetos the saltiness was horrible.

(When I do eat pickles, I buy the reduced sodium ones and only enjoy one spear as a treat.)

Any Protein?

Looking for the amount of protein in the nutrition label is important because you need protein to function properly.

Next, I look at the protein levels. Protein is absolutely necessary in a healthy diet. Not all foods contain high amounts protein, like fruits and veggies. I usually supplement my diet with the powdered form. However, I still like to look at the protein levels. My standard for protein is very high so I like to be aware how much I’m eating.

There are many reasons why you need to make sure you get enough protein including:

  • Stronger muscles
  • Prevention of bone disease
  • Fights heart disease
  • Regulates sugar levels
  • Improved concentration
  • Higher energy levels

To find out more about the benefits of protein, click here.

Most health officials recommend consuming .8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (otherwise known as .36 grams per pound). Therefore, take your weight (in pounds) and multiply it by .36. That’s the amount of how many grams of protein you should eat a day.

However, body builders and athletes consume way more than that. A body builder’s rule of thumb is to consume the same amount of grams as pounds of body weight. I take both into consideration. I weigh 100 pounds, so I strive to consume around 50 grams of protein per day or more. Some days I begin my day by eating a breakfast containing 3 eggs and 3 slices of turkey bacon. That’s 24 grams of protein right there!

Is There Trans Fat?

Finding hydrogenated oils on a nutritional label is never a good thing.

If it passed those tests, the next thing I look for is trans fat. It can be on the top part of the label or found within the ingredients. I take a look at the total fat found within the product and see if the grams listed below add up to the grams of total fat. If not, I know there’s trans fat in there.

Also, if there’s “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil” on the label that means there’s trans fat within that product. If I seen that, I would immediately put the product down and not buy it. There’s many dangers and diseases caused by trans fat which I’ve already talked about in this post. If you need a reminder, some include:

  • Hardened arteries
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Calcified arteries
  • Inflammation of the brain

Trans fats are one of the main reasons I don’t eat fast foods anymore. Almost all of it is cooked in shortening (pure hydrogenated oil). It’s a shame.

Because of the many health risks associated with trans fats, I aim to eliminate them from my household completely. I can’t bring myself to buy foods for my child that I know do damage to his body. Neither can I eat them.

Ingredients Or Chemicals?

If there’s low sugar, low sodium, no trans fat, and preferably some protein, then I move to the ingredient list. If I flip over an ingredient and instantly see a long list of ingredients, I take a quick skim and usually put it back. A lot of ingredients means highly processed and full of chemicals that aren’t meant for human consumption.

Before I buy a product, I always look at the ingredients listed. If I see any of the following things, I put it back on the shelf:

  • high fructose corn syrup
  • hydrogenated oils
  • canola oil
  • any other vegetable oils
  • chemicals that I cannot pronounce or recognize
  • artificial dyes
  • caramel color (a carcinogenic)

When I find an item that has wholesome ingredients it feels like a win and I’m thrilled to eat it!

Conclusion

Although we just went over a lot in this article, it’s easy to check for quality foods once you get used to it. It’s only difficult at first because it’s new. Once you learn which foods offer wonderful benefits to your family, you’ll know exactly what to buy at the grocery store and you won’t have to look for hours on end like some sort of scavenger hunt.

Also, some people are only used to eating foods out of a box, bag, or package. But the greatest foods for your health are the ones that comes directly from the earth. You cannot substitute 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily with anything else. You absolutely must begin eating the foods that God has blessed us with naturally.

Reminder: It’s a journey. We’ll always be learning and growing during this time on earth. For example, I tried a raspberry for the first time yesterday. It was delicious! What wonderful foods are you missing out on by eating processed, factory, man-made junk? Thanks for checking in and feel free to comment any questions or comments below. Share with anyone who can benefit from this article.

References:

  1. http://www.healthdata.org/news-release/vast-majority-american-adults-are-overweight-or-obese-and-weight-growing-problem-among
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/faqs.htm

Reading a nutrition label is really easy! All it takes is knowing a few basics and clean eating will always be achievable for you!


 

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