Food Labels 101
The Nutrition Facts are based off of a 2000 calorie diet, a standard of the needed calories for the energy requirements of an average person. A calorie is a quantity of energy that is derived from either a gram of fat, protein, or carbohydrate. One gram of fat will produce 9 calories, while one gram of a protein or a carbohydrate will yield only 4 calories. Many people are so involved in counting calories that they forget to recognize the most important factor of nutritional content. One could consume 2000 calories and easily not receive any nutritional content; the body, hungry for nutrients, will require more food — the individual will oblige and consume more food. This type of eating has been termed “eating empty calories.” The result of eating “empty calories” is an overfed and undernourished individual. Most Americans eat enough calories, but are still malnourished! Thus, it is important to know how to read food labels to ensure one receives adequate nutrition. The earth makes nutrients that are vital to our health; no wonder why Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” stated, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
To properly read food labels, begin with the serving size. If the serving size is extremely small, chances are the manufacturer of the product wants the calorie, carbohydrate, total fat, and protein content to appear reasonable. In order to accomplish this tactic, food manufacturers can legally make the serving size unreasonably small.
Even though organic foods are more expensive, you can rest assured that there has been no pesticide or fungicide use, no artificial hormones, and no harmful chemical fertilizers. In addition, organically grown foods emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water. Not only are organically grown foods better for you, but they are also better for the earth.
Study the list of ingredients!
The best nutritional information about a food product is in this section. Follow these guidelines to ensure better nutrition and health:
1. Look for ingredients that have recognizable names.
Chemicals are long, difficult words and are added to foods for flavor enhancement or to serve as a preservative. These chemicals create long-term toxic effects on the body and on one’s health. A good rule to live by: if you would not like to spell or pronounce the word, chances are you should not be putting it in your body (think about the names of pharmaceuticals).
2. Ensure the presence of whole grains.
Consider the following — whole grains are capable of producing more grain when planted in the ground. Flour and processed grains lack vital components of a whole grain and are not capable of growing anything if placed in the ground. Therefore, only whole grains are capable of producing valuable nutrition and health. Another fact to consider –- if flour and water are used to make paper-maché, what do flour and water make inside of you?
Would you eat an apple artificially produced in a laboratory? If not, then why would you want to consume an artificial flavor or color made in a laboratory? Artificial colors have a USDA certified tag FD&C — Food, Drug, and Cosmetic. These colors are approved for use in foods, drugs, and cosmetics. Not only can the same colors in your food be used in cosmetics, but many of these artificial colors have been linked to cancer.
4. Avoid trans fats — they are poor for your health and do not occur naturally in nature.
Trans fats are used in food products solely for the benefit of the manufacturer because it increases food “shelf-life”. Amounts of trans fats in food content are permitted to be rounded down. For example, a product can have 0.49 grams of trans fat and still be labeled as containing no trans fats! To avoid trans fats, do not consume any food that has “partially hydrogenated” oil listed in the ingredients.
5. A “fully hydrogenated” fat is a manufactured saturated fat.
These should also be avoided as they do not occur in nature and the fat has been altered from its original form. The body will not know how to properly process this fat.
6. Observe the sodium content.
Once again, sodium is added to benefit the manufacturer. Sodium comes from salt and is a natural preservative –- using salt on meat (such as beef jerky) preserves meat since the high quantity of salt prevents bacterial growth. Foods high in sodium are poor for your nutrition and good for shelf-life. Foods that are grown naturally are high in potassium; search for foods that have a low sodium and high potassium content. Sodium and potassium are needed to maintain blood volume and blood pressure; rampant high blood pressure rates stem from lack of exercise and high sodium intake from processed and unnatural foods.
7. Avoid all artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup.
Artificial sweeteners are chemically manufactured and are a toxic overload to the body. Accumulations of this chemical overload will lead to future health conditions. Aspartame, the ingredient of artificial sweeteners, accounts for about 70% of all complaints filed to the FDA! High fructose corn syrup is an ingredient that is inexpensive and very sweet. It is added to foods to enhance sweetness and to help the food manufacturer do so inexpensively. Unfortunately, fructose (a natural sugar from fruit) does not need a carrier to enter into a cell. Foods flavored with high fructose corn syrup result in an abnormal “sugar spike” in the consumer’s blood and a rapid accumulation of fat as the body converts the sugar to fat for storage.
8. Be aware of flavor enhancers.
They come in many names and forms and are neurotoxic. All of these flavor enhancers are derived from glutamate, a powerful neurotransmitter used in the brain. The body utilizes L-glutamic acid which occurs naturally or “bound” in a variety of foods, but processing renders it in the “free” form. This “free” form resembles sugar and is neurotoxic. The common names for flavor enhancers are: monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed oat flour, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, textured protein, plant protein extract, corn oil, and natural flavors.
The practice of reading food labels can be a daunting experience at first, but with practice it will become easier and your health will thank you for it. Also, be sure to follow the Honest Food Guide to ensure proper nutrition.