Understanding the nutrition label that is stamped on foods can be downright confusing.
Every year, it seems there is a new ingredient to be avoided at all cost. Here is a nutrition label 101 crash course to help you understand what to avoid and why.
Nutrition Label: Gluten Free
Eating a gluten free diet is not necessarily beneficial for everyone. Most people do not have any problem digesting gluten.
Still, it is an additive that the human body does not need. Gluten is an additive that causes wheat and other grain products to bulk the products up and give extra flavor. It is present in most of the grains on the shelf.
People who suffer from celiac disease, a digestive disorder, should avoid gluten at all costs. In addition, people who are trying to lose weight, will promote their efforts by cutting back on gluten, but it still isn’t guaranteed to make that person healthier for cutting it out of their diet.
For everyone else, it is best to experiment and try a week without gluten in daily meals. It has been a trend to give up gluten completely, but this experiment allows you to see the effects of the additive.
If you feel better for doing so, chances are your body is best without it. Mostly baked goods such as cookies, pizza crusts, muffins, breads, pastries, chips, etc contain gluten. Check the nutrition label for Gluten.
Nutrition Label: Corn Byproducts
Corn has recently gotten so many mixed reviews. While it seems to be destroying the health of long time consumers, it is saving the world as a form of renewable energy.
Safe to say, anything in moderation is fine. However, the average consumer has a diet that is anything but moderate in corn. Most of our daily food staples have a corn type base.
Some of the most common uses of corn are:
- corn oil
- corn chips
- corn tortillas
- corn syrup
- corn flakes
- corn starch
- corn meal
- corn flour
As you already know, it’s a hard ingredient to avoid. Not to mention, the word ‘corn’ has such a farm fresh healthy ring to it.
Americans have been told for decades that corn is both healthy and nurturing when, in actuality, the opposite is true. Corn is cheap to make and easy to grow.
It was originally used in foods to get more bang for the food manufacture’s buck. The food manufacturer could make more product for less cost by using corn as a filler ingredient.
Though it may be a backbone of the American and world’s farmlands, corn needs to come with a warning label. The U.S. government pays farmers to mass grow this crop because it will make food products less expensive.
Important note: We are not talking about the type of corn on the cob or canned corn that is both delicious and a popular ingredient in classic dishes like meatloaf.
Corn is broken down into different components that are then added to foods. These different types are considered ‘corn byproducts’ that are very unhealthy.
Cons of Corn Byproducts
- causes rapid weight gain when ingested
- the human body is not able to break down and digest corn
- is usually genetically modified which can cause certain cancers in the human body
- can promote dental problems such as tooth decay and cavities
- causes increased triglycerides which promotes heart problems
Nutrition Label: No MSG
Monosodium glutamate is often associated with Chinese foods because of the cuisine’s popular use of this additive instead of natural salt.
There is such a thing as a natural glutamate. However, monosodium glutamate is added to foods and is very unhealthy.
Why Add MSG?
- Taste buds are tricked to make a person think that a food is higher in protein and is healthier.
- Increases flavor in food
It is very easy to find your favorite Asian or international foods that are free of MSG, and the funny thing is, the foods taste the same.
Since MSG can be substituted by natural salt, the flavor is just as tasty and the food is healthier. Check the nutrition label for MSG.
Nutrition Label: Low in Trans Fats
Trans fats are also flavor enhancers and the problem with these manufactured fats are, well, they will make you fat. Other health hazards associated with trans fats:
- increases cholesterol levels
- clogged arteries
- very hard for the body to digest
- increases caloric count in foods
- store bought cookies, crackers, muffins, pizza dough, pie crusts, hamburger/hot dog buns
- all fried foods
- fast food menu items
- frozen meals
- cake and cookie mixes
- microwave butter-flavored popcorn
Is There Such a Thing as “Zero Trans Fats?”
Chances are, if you buy a product that claims to have zero trans fats, there will be some trans fats still hanging around.
However, the amount of trans fats is almost undetectable and must be at a healthy level to be deserving of such a healthy stamp.
The best way to avoid trans fats is to cook at home. As you can see, most of the pre-packaged foods are the biggest trans fats culprits.
When we pick up snacks at the store, we tell ourselves we should be making healthy decisions.
Sometimes, the nutrition label can be more confusing than helpful because we don’t know what to look for.
Hopefully, these guidelines will allow you to make healthy decisions with confidence before you buy.
Barbara Williams is a blogger and third grade teacher who works extensively for after-school programs for kids. She enjoys playing tennis with her husband to stay healthy and refers her readers to find health insurance companies online.