Learn to Look Past the Marketing on the Box
Written by: Dr. Janine Mackenzie, ND
Have you ever picked something off the grocery store shelves because the label told you it was a good and healthy choice only to get home and look at the nutritional information and be completely blown away by the amount of sugar or fat it contains? You are not alone! Marketing companies are brilliant, it’s their job to trick us with phrases like “low fat” or “all natural”. They boast about how many servings of fruit or veggies, or the amount of protein the product contains, only to hide the real truth on the nutritional label. Navigating the grocery store is hard, especially when you’re just trying to make healthy choices for your family.
This post will teach you a little about what to look for and what to avoid.
Common Food Label Terms and What They Actually Mean:
Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus = This means things have been added in. Nutrients such as minerals and fiber may have been removed and then vitamins and minerals are added back during processing. This is common on cereal and grain products. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is best if the nutrients come directly from the food itself and are not added in extra. Look for 100% whole-wheat bread, and high-fiber, low-sugar cereals.
Fruit drink = probably little or no real fruit and a lot of sugar. This may just be fruit flavoring, sugar, and water. Think Kool-Aid or other powdered drinks. There’s not a whole lot here nutritionally. If you must have juice, look for products that say "100% Fruit Juice" and consume in moderation. Even better, eat a piece of fruit instead or make a smoothie.
Made with wheat, rye, or multi-grains = have very little whole grain. Look at the ingredients section for the word "whole" before the grain to ensure that you're getting a 100% whole-grain product. Whole grains are better than processed grains as we get fiber and less of a blood sugar spike from them. The term “whole grain” is allowed to be used very loosely. The nutrition value of flour made from whole grain is quite different from when you eat the grain in its entirely – such as when you cook quinoa, brown rice, or millet.
Natural = the manufacturer started with a natural source, but once it's processed the food may not resemble anything natural. Look for "100% All Natural" and "No Preservatives.” Be wary of these, make sure you read the ingredients. Marketing companies know that the consumers are trying to make better, more natural choices for their families and are easily deceived by these words. Also, “Natural” does not mean “Organic”.
Organically grown, pesticide-free, or no artificial ingredients = Trust only labels that have the Canada Organic logo.
Sugar-free, reduced fat or fat-free = Don't assume the product is low-calorie. The manufacturer compensated the change in texture with unhealthy ingredients that don't taste very good and some of these products have no fewer calories than the real thing. Also, sugar-free foods are most likely to be sweetened with artificial sweeteners – which the body recognizes as toxic chemicals. Choose the full fat, whole fat, or even full sugar option instead and eat in moderation.
Diet = This term is most notably on drinks and sodas. The sugar has been removed and replaced with aspartame or another synthetic sweetener. I recommend patients avoid aspartame like the plague! There are better options for pop like flavoured soda waters, adding lemon or lime to mineral water, or those pops with natural sweeteners like stevia. These should still be consumed in moderation.
0 trans fat = this label is allowed on foods that contain less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving. (No amount of trans fat is recommended, and it only takes 2 grams of trans fats to show its harmful effect.)
The grocery store can be an intimidating place. It can be total and complete sensory overload. You are not alone. My best advice is take a trip to the grocery store with the intent on buying nothing, it’s a fact-finding mission instead. Walk isle by isle and check out the nutritional information on some of your go-to items. Compare brand name to the grocery store brand. Look at serving size, look at calories, read the ingredients list. Make notes if you have to. Once you’re done put the item back on the shelf and move to the next item.
Navigating the grocery store is hard, especially when you’re just trying to make healthy choices for your family.
Hopefully this post helped you learn a little about what to look for and what to avoid. Stay tuned for the next post in this series about how to read a food label.
If you’re looking to improve your health and wellness, contact Cheam Wellness Group at 604-776-2432 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we can work together