Do you Know What's in Your Food? What you Should Be Doing Every Time you Shop!
15 October 2015
Grocery shopping is the norm for virtually all of us. At least once a week we find ourselves walking through the grocery store, isle by isle, placing pretty much anything that looks good in our trolley without much thought. But what is in that food you have just selected? Are you sure you really even know?
I really feel as if this is a topic that is very often neglected, yet it holds so much importance for our health and wellbeing. Whether it be lack of time or ignorance, checking ingredients is something that most of us forget to do – yet we should be doing this ALL THE TIME!
Food labels are an important source of information about calories and the nutritional value of the foods you eat - a crucial tool in building a healthier lifestyle. And I cannot emphasize enough just how essential it is to check ingredients. Just because the front of the packaging says “low fat” or “no sugar added” does not mean that you must take for granted that it is good for you, or ok to buy for that matter. Often there are products that are free of one thing, but loaded with something else to fill its place. A famous example is “fat free’ or “low fat” products, which add loads of sugar instead to make up for the taste that lacks when the fat is removed, so be careful with these claims! Take the extra time to read your ingredients and study the nutritional table of the product you are buying so that you can make a more informed decision as to whether you should really buy it or not.
Sometimes interpreting the ingredients and nutritional table can be a bit tricky, so the next time you go shopping, use this guide below to help you better understand what it is that you are reading:
- The Nutrition Facts information is always displayed in the same orderly fashion and helps you understand how much of each nutrient you need to limit or enjoy more of, is contained in the product per serving.
- What isn’t always so clear is the ingredients listed on foods or drinks.What do all those huge words mean? Can you always tell when something has a lot of sugar? How about sodium and trans fats? It can become rather difficult to identify the ingredients that you want to reduce to keep you healthy, such as saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars and cholesterol. Confusing as it may seem, there are a few simple things to remember to help you navigate these lists. Certain ingredients go by names other than what we expect but with a little research you can come to learn exactly what to enjoy and what to stay far away from!
- Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, but that does not always tell the whole story. For example, if a jar of salsa lists tomatoes first, this tell us that there are more tomatoes in the product than anything else. However, when it comes to sodium, added sugars, saturated and trans fats – which in excess can damage heart health and increase the risk of heart disease– it can be difficult to tell just how much is in there. The reason is, these ingredients can go by several names. You might see sugar listed as the fourth ingredient in a product and think it’s not so bad. But sugar can also be listed as high-fructose corn syrup or corn syrup, agave nectar, barley malt syrup or dehydrated cane juice, to name just a few, so be sure to look out for these terms.
- Sodium also has several names.These include: sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG). Sodium nitrite is a source of salt in our diets, and is contained in foods such as hot dogs and lunch meats. Additionally, it is used to preserve fish and meats, and to control bacteria, so it has legitimate uses, but we should be aware that it contributes to our total salt intake. This is important to know because too much sodium can raise blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. The Heart Foundation of South Africa recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, so try as best you can to adhere to this guideline.
- Perhaps trickiest of all is trans fats.You won’t find these listed as trans fats at all, but rather ingredients that contain trans fats: mainly partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil. Trans fats can elevate our risk of developing heart disease. These fats raise our bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease our good cholesterol (HDL). Be sure to keep a look out for these.
For all the reasons detailed above, (alongside all the confusion that comes with nutrients being represented under different names) it is always best to stick to one or two ingredient foods. This includes foods such as whole vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, and lean proteins. If you do decide to purchase packaged foods, opt for those that contain wholefood ingredients without any funny chemicals, additives or nutrients concealed under different names. The more you understand your ingredients the better able you will be to discern whether or not you should purchase a specific product.
While there are many terms used for different nutrients, the most important of all that we should all be very familiar with is sugar. Sugar can hide under 50 different names. Make sure to look out for terms such as high fructose corn syrup, glucose, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate, carob syrup, cane juice, lactose and malt amongst others, when reading ingredients listings. Sometimes, you may find three or four of them contained in one product which is pretty scary!
Remember that good health means being well informed, so the more you educate yourself on proper nutrition, the more successful you will be at mastering sustainable health and wellbeing.
Yours in Health Always,