FOOD | How to read food labels
Today we want to educate you on 3 SFT tips for reading food labels so you can feel confident at your next grocery stop or food outing. After all, Skin Food Talk wants to empower you with the education you need to better yourself without having to limit your choices - we just want you to feel comfortable and nutritionally satisfied with every meal. To follow up from last week’s SKIN post on the importance of reading labels we wanted to take the time to focus on the often overlooked food label tricks and traps. Understanding ingredients on food labels, confusing buzzy phrases like “gluten free” and “organic” and knowing where exactly your food comes from can be very tricky. Just like the beauty industry it’s easy for companies to market in a shameful and misleading manner. So here are our top 3 tips to stay informed while reading food labels:
1 - GO WITH PACKAGE FREE
Seems simple right? The healthiest foods options out there are foods that don't need packages at all. We call these real whole foods such as fruits and vegetables that still have all their vitamins and nutrients intact. Filling up your diet with real whole foods can help eliminate the need for packaged goods and weight watching. When shopping start in the produce area you can fill up your cart with what’s in season and most fresh. You can also also always do your shopping at your local farmer’s market or sign up for a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) box so you support your local small businesses and feel confident in the fair trade sourcing of your food. Plus, you will be able to eat what is available in season which is one of the top SFT suggestions for best nutrition practices.
Once you make your way into the middle aisles for your pantry staples be your own food detective and pay attention to how many ingredients are listed. Which brings us to our next tip...
2 - UNDERSTAND ADDITIVES / PRESERVATIVES
If you turn a package around to find an endless list of ingredients you want to be able to read and recognize all of them. Just like beauty products you want to watch for the Dirty Dozen in food additives (listed here). Ingredients are also listed in order from quantity so the first ingredient listed is the most prominent and the last ingredient is has the smallest amount in your food. Sticking with limited ingredients or ingredients you understand is ideal. You know when something doesn’t resonate with you as well so it’s important to trust that instinct. If it's not so clear then it's time to talk about our 3rd tip...
3 - UNCOVERING FOOD CLAIMS
Food claims can sometimes be the equivalent of dramatic skincare claims that use dramatic language to sway you into choosing your foods based on shameful buzzwords. Remember how we all thought “fat free” was all the rage in the 90s? Well, it turns out that healthy fats are actually beneficial to many for hormone balance but we’ll get into that in a separate discussion. The latest and probably most recognizable trendy phrase right now is “gluten free”. Being gluten intolerant, sensitive, celiac or even just mindful of your gluten intake requires a lot of extra studying and awareness but a lot of companies who never had gluten in their products to begin with are taking advantage of that. Just because you see the claim "gluten free" doesn't mean it had gluten to begin with. It's also important to read the fine print. Don't trust the claim and do your research by reading each ingredient to be safe.
Another heavily marketed term is the label of “organic”. To be certified organic means that the product or produce has not been exposed to “prohibited materials” such as synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides, and prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms. In meat, there must not be any use of antibiotic and hormone use in the animals and the animals must have outdoor access. Products with only 70-90% of organic ingredients can use the Organic label on the front of its packaging! Talk to your local butcher and check on their animals life quality and food choices. If you're not comfortable with their answer then you intuition is telling you to look elsewhere for that particular type of food.
And lastly, let’s explain the term GMO- free. GMO means plants or animals that have been genetically modified using DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. While this is a controversial subject, we would like you to be the judge on consuming GMO products. A great source to learn more can be found here.
Let us know ways in which you have become your own food detective. And if this becomes confusing to you, we are happy to help you or assist you in working with a nutritionist to help. Stay tuned for next week's TALK article on our favorite resources to debunk false label claims in all other household and daily items.