Be Label Saavy: 5 Things to Think About When Grocery Shopping

I wanted to do a post about reading labels in the grocery store because it was such an eye opening topic for me during my courses. It’s something everyone should pay attention to when grocery shopping and I don’t think many know to do so, or what to look for.

Whether we follow it or not, we all know processed food is not the healthiest choice we can make. Even if you buy organic boxed stuff, although better than non-organic, it’s still processed which means the original food has been altered and likely contains ingredients we’re better off not putting in our bodies. That said, most of us (myself included) have a few boxed items they buy regularly…the reality is that convenience is often a necessity. That said, there are rules I follow consistently whenever I buy anything from a box. I read food labels carefully. There are several ingredients I avoid 100% and others I avoid as much as possible. Here are a few of the tips I learned (and follow diligently) about labels:

  1. Watch for the sugar content! I seriously cannot stress this enough. And it doesn’t matter if it’s organic or not – sugar is sugar and excess sugar is not good for your body. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat anything containing sugar, but it’s important to be mindful of how much sugar is in whatever you’re buying and make good choices. For example, a chocolate chip Cliff granola bar, contains 21g of sugar, whereas a dark chocolate chunk Kind granola bar contains only 8g…that’s a huge difference, particularly if you eat one every day. Kind bars offer the same convenience, with less than half the sugar – they’re also cheaper…bonus! Compare products and chose wisely.
  2. The term “natural” does not mean organic. This was probably the biggest surprise to me in the sense that I assumed something labeled “all natural” was healthy. That’s not necessarily the case. According to the USDA, foods labelled “natural” do not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives; however, they can contain antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals. Anything labelled “organic” is free of all of those ingredients. Buying something labeled “all natural” is certainly a better option than something with artificial ingredients, but still not as good a choice as foods labeled organic, or non-GMO.
  3. Non-GMO and Organic labels: I make a point to buy organic foods as much as possible. If I can’t find an organic option of what I’m looking for, then I look for foods labelled “non-GMO. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms and as much as possible, I avoid GMO foods. Some of the ingredients in these foods have had changes made to their DNA and the effects of these changes on our bodies have not yet been extensively studied. The studies that have been done indicate negative reactions and that’s reason enough for me to search high and low for non-GMO, or organic foods. And FYI, all foods labelled “organic” are non-GMO (whether specifically labelled or not), but non-GMO foods are not necessarily certified organic (unless labelled as such).
  4. Portion size matters! I’m not referring to controling how much you eat, but rather that the information listed on the Nutritional Facts label depends on the portion size indicated at the top of that label. When comparing the amount of sugar, in two similar products, for example, be sure to note the portion size for each. If you only look at the sugar amount listed in the table, with no regard to the defined portion size, it’s like comparing apples to oranges (unless the portions are the same). This may mean you have to do some quick math to accurately compare two products, but it’s a necessary evil and well worth the effort.
  5. Avoid certain ingredients, 100%! Regardless of what I’m buying, there are several ingredients that I avoid all together. These include: aspartame (yes, that means no diet sodas!!), sodium nitrate/nitrite (highly allergenic), high fructose corn syrup, palm oil, canola oil, any food coloring (think, Gatorade!), and MSG. There are so many options of comparable items that don’t contain these ingredients, do yourself and your family a huge favour and take the time to find and buy those instead.

I think there’s a mindset that changing diet choices to healthier options takes a herculean effort and is just too much trouble, but there are so many things that can be changed without anyone even noticing. Ok, so giving up diet soda will require a significant effort and commitment, but simply taking the time for the non-GMO label is an easy thing and results in healthier options for you and your family. Those ingredients will not be missed.

Commit to working your way through this list over your next few trips to the grocery store – your family’s health is so worth it!

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