Welcome back to Real Food 101. This week we are talking about reading food labels and identifying where to find real food. Last week, we started this Real Food 101: A Guide to Eating and Feeling Better series and started a conversation about what “real food” is and how to improve our diet. Real Food is food that is unprocessed and comes from natural sources. “Real food” grows in the garden, field, tree, vine, or on farm.
Here are a few real food examples:
NOT Real Food
|Pureed Strawberries||Strawberry flavored fruit topping|
|Chicken breast meat||Compressed, breaded chicken nuggets|
|Cheddar Cheese (block)||Velveeta Cheese Product|
I am not a nutritionist, doctor, or health professional. What I am is a mom who wants to provide the most nutritious foods available to her family. After developing hypoglycemia a few years ago, I overhauled by diet based on recommendations from an old family friend who happens to be a Kinesiologist, a type of homeopathic health professional. Since then, I am more cognizant of what I feed my family. The most important thing I learned is that reading food labels is key to improving my health.
Start Reading Food Labels
Last week, I gave you a few of the same tips (the same ones I was given) to start improving your health with:
- Begin reading food labels
- Cook with real food ingredients
- Avoid prepackaged processed foods
How did that go for you? Did you understand the ingredients in many of the labels?
The FDA recommends that we look at a food’s nutrition facts label, like the example featured above. They focus on the calories, fat, carbs, sugars, and vitamin content. When reading food labels, the nutrition facts is important, but it isn’t the only thing you should be looking at. Very little attention is given to the MOST important part of the label, the ingredients, not shown on the example. This area tells us exactly what we are eating.
Here's a look at the 33 ingredients in Fruit Loops: Sugar, Corn Flour, Wheat Flour, Whole Oat Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (One or More of: Coconut, Cottonseed, and Soybean) (Less than 0.5 g Trans Fat Per Serving), Salt, Sodium Ascorbate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Reduced Iron, Natural Orange, Lemon, Cherry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Lime, and Other Natural Flavors, Red No. 40, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 6, Zinc Oxide, Niacinamide, Turmeric Color, Blue No. 1, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Vitamin A Palmitate, Annatto Color, BHT (Preservative), Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12.
The fact that sugar is the first ingredient is bothersome. The most abundant ingredient in a food product is always listed first. The highlighted ingredients are examples of modified foods, preservatives, food enhancers, etc. Do you know what each of these ingredients are? Neither do I.
I do know what BHT is. BHT is widely used as a food preservative. If you look at the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for BHT, it reads as the following:
- Do NOT let this chemical enter the environment.
- Ingestion causes Abdominal pain. Confusion. Dizziness. Nausea. Vomiting.
- The substance may have effects on the liver.
- The substance is harmful to aquatic organisms.
Now doesn't that sound appetizing?
Here is an example of a food label for Old Fashioned Coach’s Oats. Notice the differences between this and the Fruit Loops shown above.
Ingredients: 100% Whole Grain Oats
One ingredient! This is what real food is. It's simple, food that is as close to nature as possible. You can add real fruit or natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, but the ingredients in this oatmeal are simple and delicious.
Which breakfast cereal would you rather have?
Identifying Real Food While Reading Labels
Photo Credit: Daryo Pino
Reading food labels and selecting real food items is simple. The graphic above is a wonderful tool to help you.
When reading food labels and selecteing food, here are a few tips to help simplify things:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables are best.
- Frozen foods are okay if the ingredients are all real food items.
- Don’t believe the advertisements on the front label of products.
- These are always about marketing, not health. Turn it around and read the ingredients.
- Food products should contain as few ingredients as possible.
- Only select those products that use ingredients you would use if you were cooking this from scratch.
- Example: Organicville Ketchup contains Organic Tomato puree, Organic Agave Nectar, Organic White Vinegar, Salt, Organic onion powder, and Organic spices
- 100% whole grain is best.
- Butter and cold pressed oils (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.) with healthy fats are preferred.
- Limit beverages to water, milk, all natural fruit/vegetable juices, naturally sweetened coffee, tea, and wine.
Avoid foods that contain:
- Scientific named products
- Products with names included the words “refined” or “modified”
- High Fructose corn syrup
- Preservatives and food enhancers including maltodextrin, nitrites/nitrates (frequently found in processed meats), and MSG
- Artificial colors
- Artificial flavors and sweeteners
- Hydrogenated oils such as vegetable and canola oil, margarine, etc.
Best rule of thumb when selecting foods, “If you won’t cook with it, avoid it!”
To help you implement and transition into real food, take a look at one of our blog article’s titled Stock a Healthy Kitchen with Real Food. It gives a great list of pantry and kitchen staples.
Next week, we’ll talk about Gentically Modified Organisms or GMO’s and why they should be avoided in your diet.