How to be a groceries wizard
Understanding food labels is a handy tool for healthy eating but could be confusing because... marketing. In the ideal world we would be eating local, organic, whole, fresh from the farm food but let's face the everyday life's reality - store bought, processed edibles do find their way into our homes and diets. Understanding the ingredients in these so conveniently made for us foods has long term benefits for our health and wellbeing because otherwise our guts have to deal with toxins, chemicals, artificial things that we are simply not equipped to manage thanks to industrialization, soil depletion, antibiotics use etc.
Take a look at your most recently bought package: labels have two things on them -
the number of servings in the entire package, and the average serving size. Serving sizes are shown in two measurements: cups (standard) and grams (metric). Nutrition labels state how many calories and nutrients are in a standard amount of the product — often a suggested single serving (yes, a quarter of a cookie could be a single serving).
The packaged foods (obviously) have a list of ingredients that go in order of largest to smallest amount meaning the ingredient that has the most weight is listed first - which is important if you have food allergies or sensitivities, as many packaged foods can have hidden sources of common allergens (like eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat (gluten), and soy), or contain trace amounts of allergens if they are made on shared equipment. A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you’re eating.
Eggs: albumin (or albumen), egg (dried, powdered, solids, white, yolk), eggnog, lysozyme, mayonnaise, meringue (meringue powder), ovalbumin, surimi
Fish: fish meal, fish oil, fish sauce, surimi, specific species of fish (e.g., bass, cod, flounder, etc.)
Peanuts: arachic oil, beer nuts, cold-pressed, extruded or expelled peanut oil, earth nuts, hydrolyzed peanut protein, mixed nuts, nu nuts, nut pieces, nutmeat, peanut (butter, flour, paste, sauce, etc.)
Shellfish: barnacle, fish stock, seafood flavoring, surimi, specific type of crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, crawfish, krill, lobster, prawns, or shrimp)
Soy: bean curd, edamame, hydrolyzed soy protein, kinako, miso, natto, okara, soy (albumin, concentrate, fiber, grits, milk, miso, nuts, sauce, flour, etc.), soybeans, soy lecithin, tamari, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, tofu
Tree Nuts: artificial flavoring, nut butters, nut meal, nutmeat, nut oil, nut pieces, any ingredient made with a specific type of tree nut (e.g., almond, cashew, pecan, walnut, etc.)
Wheat (gluten): dextrin, maltodextrin, modified food starch, textured vegetable protein, specific strains of wheat (e.g., durum wheat, club wheat, spelt, semolina, Einkorn, emmer, kamut, and triticale.
Besides common allergens if you see sugar or salt on the "hot spot" at the beginning of the list - think twice about about this food choice. Let's go ahead and add high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils (like canola, soybean, and corn oils), refined grains and anything low fat, low carb, fat free to this list of ingredients that have been highly processed with chemicals and therefore don't deserve to be in the shopping cart.
Also if the ingredients list is longer than two to three lines, it suggests that the product is highly processed so do yourself a favor and skip it.
Remember the rule that if you can't pronounce an ingredient, don't go for it? Here are some highly used "add-ons" that we actually don't want to add:
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), also known as sodium glutamate, is used in cooking as a flavor intensifier.
Carrageenan - a food additive that is a stabilizing and emulsifying agent.
Natural flavor(s) - flavoring agents to enhance the taste.
Artificial food dyes (usually with a number and # like yellow #5) - chemical substances that were developed to enhance the appearance of food by giving it artificial color. Made from petroleum (where is a "fainting" emoji?!).
Sodium Nitrites and Sodium Nitrates - curing agent, food preservatives.
Artificial sweeteners - synthetic sugar substitutes.
Gums (guar, xantham, acacia, gellan, locust bean gum) - bulking agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers and thickeners.
Sodium benzoate and benzoic acid - preservatives often added to carbonated drinks and acidic foods.
Zero trans fat - a type of unsaturated fat that have undergone hydrogenation. Small amounts of trans fats are permitted in packaged foods as long as the food contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. You may get a lot more trans fats if you eat more than one serving, so better watch out!
Yeast extract (autolyzed yeast extract or hydrolyzed yeast extract), is added to certain savory foods to boost the flavor.
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), propyl gallate - antioxidant preservatives used in cereals, potato chips, oils and chewing gums to keep them from going rancid.
Potassium bromate—an additive used in breads and rolls to increase their volume and produce a fine crumb structure.
Sodium phosphate - an additive made of sodium and phosphate that's used to keep meats moist and tender during storage.
Sugars in disguise - in this post we already discussed their danger and very creative names they hide under like evaporated cane juice, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate, etc.
Hydrolized vegetable protein - another flavor enhancer that used in creation of MSG. When MSG in food is the result of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA does not require it to be listed on the packaging.
Modified corn starch - another emulsifier.
Caramel color - i love caramel but this additive is made by treating sugar with ammonia, which can produce carcinogens.
The list, unfortunately, goes on... But this a place to start.
Now, go on, shop smarter!