Let’s decode how to read food labels and choose the right product
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Reading labels could be tricky. With ‘healthy brands’ taking over social media and the internet these days, we must understand what we should look out for when we buy a food item. A possibility could be high that we go in to buy a healthy product, but we end up buying another junk item unintentionally. Most of the items that have health claims on packaged food could be designed to catch your attention and convince you that the product is healthy.
Read the front and back cover of the product.
Avoid artificial flavoring or ‘nature-like’ substances.
Sugar comes in many forms and has at least fifty-six names––cane sugar, jaggery high fructose corn syrup, glucose, maltose, lactose, fructose, caramel, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, rice syrup are just a few of them.
Scan the product ingredients which the manufacturer used the most of and ingredients that make up the largest part of what you're eating.
if the largest portions of ingredients include refined grains, processed sugar, and vegetable oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy and non-hormone friendly!
Also, any ingredient which is hard to pronounce or understand, high chance it's highly processed or has additives or ingredients that our body doesn’t want!
Processed foods contain many non-food elements, which promote shelf life. These come in four categories:
· Preservatives: Chemicals that prevent the food from rotting.
· Colourants: Chemicals that are used to give it a specific color.
· Flavour: Chemicals that give the food a particular flavor.
· Texturants: Chemicals that give it a particular texture.
The below list might not be an exhaustive one but can certainly be the go-to checkpoints before you purchase your next ‘healthy’ item.
Gluten-Free: That’s a catchy term you find on supermarket shelves these days. But understand that something that’s originally gluten-free such as rice, doesn’t need to be processed differently to make it gluten-free coz rice doesn’t have gluten in the first place. In case you have to buy gluten-free products make sure it isn’t high on white rice flour. It's much better to look out for gluten-free- constituents that are high fibre such as buckwheat, ragi, amaranth, brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats.
Any products which have wheat, rye, barley suji, maida, or couscous can have gluten in them. Also, oats if not processed in a gluten-free environment could contain gluten.
Vegan: Many vegan products use soy as a meat replacer but Soy could affect your hormones if taken in also when you buy a vegan product for your PCOS diet, ensure that you don’t end up buying another hormone disruptor product.
Multigrain: When you listen to this term you could relate to all types of multigrain bread; we see in our local grocery stores and a highly stacked item in our households. Well, Multigrain sounds very healthy but only means that a product contains more than one type of grain. And most likely, these are refined grains — unless the product says, ‘whole grain’. Even if the product has whole grains, it may contain very little or negligible whole grains. Next time you buy your sandwich bread, pizza base, kulchas, paos, etc, check the label to see how much whole grain is included in the product.
Natural. This wouldn’t necessarily mean that the product is 100% natural. It indicates that the manufacturer has used some natural ingredients, but it is important to know which ingredients in the product are natural and which ones are processed. And how much natural % of natural ingredients has been used. Chances are high that the product has just 5% - 10% natural ingredients and the rest is processed elements.
Organic. This term is used highly in the health space and says very little about whether a product is healthy. For example, if the product has organic sugar, it’s still sugar and makes the product unhealthy. Also, it's important to know how many of the ingredients are organic and free of chemicals and fertilizers.
No added Sugar or Sugar-free: Some products that could be naturally high in sugar. Or instead of processed sugar, it contains high natural sugar forms. In case you are staying away from sugar, you must lookout for the amount of the natural sugar forms added to the products as well. Natural sugar could act the same way in the body as normally processed sugar would. 5g sugar is almost equal to one teaspoon of sugar. If a can of soft drink/ juice has 40g of sugar - that’s like eating eight teaspoons of sugar.
Some sugar types you can spot on product labels are: brown sugar, cane sugar, caster sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, golden sugar, organic raw sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, lactose, corn sweetener, malt powder, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, maltose
Fruit-flavored products: Many processed foods have a name that refers to a natural flavor, such as strawberry yogurt, mango yogurt, smoothie, juices, etc. However, the product may not contain any natural fruit but instead chemicals or sugary fruit extract designed to taste like fruit.
Fortified/ enriched. Often found in dairy-free milk or juices in the market. This could mean that some nutrients have been added to the product. For example, vitamin D is often added to dairy-free milk. And because something is fortified doesn’t make it healthy to consume.
Fats: Look out for products with unsaturated fats whenever possible, and limit foods with saturated and trans fats (also called trans fatty acids). look for terms such as "partially hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated," which indicate the product contains trans fats which could increase your bad cholesterol. Products with good fats will include whole nuts, seeds, unadulterated and nut butter
Sodium: Too much salt increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, kidney disease, and bloating. Brine or salt solution used to store olives, jalapenos, etc; soya sauce and other packaged/tin food contain very high content of sodium. The packaged Indian masalas and marinades that we buy from the market are often loaded with too much sodium or sugar to keep them alive for a longer period on the shelves.
Additionally, any product that comes with added preservatives and additives, you know what to do right? Please do not buy such products.
If we talk about the real world today, finding preservative-free, sugar-free, etc food can be very challenging. And with all the wellness products swirling around us, we must educate ourselves about what we buy. It’s always better to have as much as homemade food and snacks or Procure from someone who makes it at home with love. Please remember that as a rule of thumb, anything which has a long shelf life means there is added sugar, salt, or preservatives to keep it alive for a longer period.
So going forward when you buy any healthy product, make sure you keep the above points in mind to make your choice.
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