How To Read Food Labels For Gut Health
Food packaging is designed to get you to buy it. Just because a brand is labeled as ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’, doesn’t mean that it’s actually filled with good ingredients. Although it may seem overwhelming, we’re here to help. Here is a breakdown of things to look for on a nutrition label so you aren’t buying products that are hurting your healing journey.
Step 1: Don’t Judge a Food by its Packaging
Yes, we all love cute packaging, but just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it doesn't contain harmful ingredients. Words like natural, clean, light, sugar free, fat free, made with 100% whole grains, etc essentially mean nothing. It’s a marketing tactic to get you to pick it up off the shelf and studies show this works. Don’t be fooled. Ignore the packaging and turn right to the nutrition label.
Step 2: Look At The Nutrition Label
Before even looking at the ingredient list, you can take note of three key things that can help you determine if you should put the item back.
- Serving Size: Although all nutrition labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that may mean nothing to you. All of our bodies are different and require a different amount of calories to function properly. What this DOES tell you is how much of this product is recommended to eat in one sitting. All nutrition notes below are for this serving size.
- Trans Fat: If the item contains trans fat, put it back. This can cause issues with cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. NOTE: Products can say they contain zero trans fat if they contain a half gram or less.
- Sugar: A lot of self-stable items have loads of unnecessary added sugar (looking at you peanut butter!). Be sure to note the amount of sugar per serving size. Many times the serving size is small to make it seem like a product has less sugar than it actually does. Labels will now distinguish between natural and added sugar which is great because sometimes whole foods contain sugar and that’s okay!
Step 3: The Ingredient List
A good rule of thumb is the shorter the ingredient list, the better. It’s important to note that the first few ingredients listed on the package make up most of the product. So if your child’s ‘apple cinnamon’ bar doesn’t list apple or cinnamon first on the ingredient list, then put it back.
If you can’t pronounce the ingredient or you wouldn’t use it when making the product at home, it’s good to just avoid it all together if you can.
Be sure to also take note of the oils used in the product. Some ‘natural’ chips only have a few ingredients but use sunflower, canola, corn, or soy oils. Although these are generally not harmful in moderation, these can exacerbate gut issues. It’s better to look for oil such as extra-virgin, coconut, avocado, ghee or grass-fed butter.
Ingredients To Avoid/Limit
- Hydrogenated oils
- Artificial sweeteners
- White refined flours in grain products
- Artificial dyes
- Nitrates and nitrites
- Be sure to check the allergy warning if you have any common food allergies or sensitivities
If you don’t suffer from gut issues and eat mostly whole foods, sometimes indulging in foods with a less-than-desirable ingredient list won’t have a huge impact on your overall health. However, if you suffer from any gut problems, adding any artificial ingredients could be detrimental so it’s important to understand how to read an ingredient list and make the best decision for your health!
If you do indulge from time-to-time, taking a Digestive Enzymes before eating can help limit negative reactions.