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The Five Most Essential Things to Identify in a Food Label

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Navigating the confusing maze of grocery store aisles and understanding what foods are good for our bodies has become increasingly difficult in today’s society. With conflicting messages about “healthy eating,” many people struggle to make informed decisions about the products they buy.

Like you, I have often wondered about the foods I consume and questioned whether they are truly good for me or not. Unfortunately, not enough people are educated about what is in our food and how to navigate the scientific jargon on food labels. Nowadays, reading a food label feels like trying to decipher a foreign language.

When I first started trying to understand food labels, I spent countless hours researching artificial flavors, chemicals, dyes, seed oils, and artificial preservatives to understand their meanings and why they were included in a particular product. As I learned more about the story behind these scientific experiments, I became increasingly frustrated that these highly processed ingredients are allowed to be included in our food in such a misleading way.

In this article, you will discover the secret to understanding food labels on your own terms. But before we dive into that, let me share something valuable that has helped me decipher the scientific jargon on food labels: It’s essential to define your own values regarding food. This allows you to make informed decisions based on your beliefs and personal values. Developing my own food values has helped me be more strategic in the grocery store and take on the persona of a food detective when looking at food labels.

Let’s dive into the five fundamental things I consider when reading a food label!

#1: The Ingredients

When I look at a package, skepticism rises when I come across food products with fancy non-GMO or green labels. I always check the ingredients list before making a buying decision and ask myself four essential questions. This helps me evaluate the quality of the product and make a buying decision based on my personal food values. 

Here are the questions I ask myself:

1. Does this product have ten or fewer ingredients?

2. Does this product have any artificial flavors, and what are they?

3. Does this product contain any chemicals or dyes?

4. Does this product have any preservatives, and what are they?

By answering these questions, I can make an informed decision about the product and move on to the next stage of my process.

#2: Carbohydrates: The Not-So-Secret Heroes:

Many people think that Carbohydrates (Carbs) are the enemy. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The simple fact is that our bodies need carbs. This specific macronutrient is the primary energy source for our bodies. 

The issue with weight loss or maintaining good overall health is not the carbs themselves but the quality of the carbohydrate-rich foods we eat. The quality of the foods you consume matters, it just does. 

Ponder this, you can eat the same amount of carbohydrates in white pasta as in Legumes, and the glucose spike and feelings of bloating will be completely different. 

So, as someone who lives with diabetes, this section of the food label is the most important to me, second only to the ingredients. 

#3: Serving Size:

The serving size information on a food label is often overlooked, but it can be incredibly valuable. This section of the label indicates the total amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, added sugar, sodium, and cholesterol in a single serving. 

It’s important to consider two key things when looking at the serving size. First, take note of how many grams are in a serving. Second, be aware of the number of servings in the package, container, or jar. This section will help you make informed decisions about the food you consume.

#4: Proteins & Fats: The Dynamic Duo:

Proteins and Fats are the Batman and Robin of your nutritional choices. They will make you feel fuller for longer, and they both play a vital role in your overall health. Although I will only spend a little time in these two sections, it’s important to understand the ratio breakdown for both of these macronutrients.

Lastly, before we move to the next section of this list, remember that just like carbohydrates, the quality of the proteins and fats you consume matters.

#5: Calories, sugars, Vitamins & Minerals: The Misfits of Nutrition

It’s important to be aware of four specific factors when purchasing a product, but they shouldn’t be the only determining factors. While counting calories can be effective for some people, it’s only sustainable for others, and one should only focus on calorie counting if they have a specific weight management goal. 

When it comes to added sugars, they are reflected in the total sugar section of a food label. However, I focus less on the total added sugars and more on where they are coming from, which can usually be found in the ingredients list. 

Lastly, vitamins and minerals are crucial for our health. While it’s not always possible to determine the type of vitamins and minerals present in a product at first glance, it’s worth investigating. Start to pay attention to what type of vitamins and minerals you consume daily, as this will give you some insight into if you’re deficient and can help you determine if supplementation is needed. 

Conclusion:

Identifying and consuming good, healthy foods has become a challenge in today’s society. The foods you consume have a lasting impact on your emotions, feelings, sleep, recovery, focus, body, and overall health. So, think about the things you value when it comes to food and let those values guide you towards a healthy and vibrant life.

If this article resonates with you and you’re interested in more guidance and support with your nutritional habits, check out our incredible Nutrition Level 1 Course designed to educate you on the foods you eat and how those foods have a lasting impact on your overall health. 

Photo by Laura James

About the Author

Coach Ken is more than just a Diabetes Health Coach; he is a devoted father, loving husband, and family man. Ken himself has Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), which gives him a personal understanding of the condition. This experience allows him to connect with his clients on a deeper level through empathy, compassion, and emotional support.

Ken started his career in the fitness industry back in 2008. As a coach, he exemplifies the importance of nutrition and fitness on one’s overall health. He believes that two fundamental principles will impact your overall health and allow you to start living the life you want to live. Those two principles are your relationship with yourself and the world around you, and your relationship with the foods you eat and how those foods make you feel. Ken believes it’s his job to coach you on these two concepts as he helps you build a fitness program that aligns with these core principles. With Ken, you’re not just receiving a coach; you’re gaining a partner on your path to a healthier, happier YOU! Follow Coach Ken: @coachk3n

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