Unless you’re buying everything organic, it can sometimes seem like food labels are written in another language. But if you don’t know what you’re putting in your body, how can you predict the effects these foods are having on your overall health? The truth is, natural foods have specific functions that we all pretty much understand. Fruits and vegetables provide us with vitamins that aid in bodily functions. Grains give us the slow-burning carbs that sustain us throughout the day. And proteins (also slow burning) ensure that our muscles stay strong. Of course, there’s a lot more to know about how food affects us, but with natural items, you know the basics. When it comes to some of the items on the food label, though, you might be baffled as to their purpose and what they are doing to your body. So here are just a few items you may want to avoid.
1. Anything you can’t read/pronounce. You know what real food is; things like corn, apples, chicken, and so on. So when you see an ingredient that you have trouble reading or pronouncing (such as butylated hydroxytoluene, for example), maybe you should stop and think about why you’re putting this substance into your body. You probably don’t even know what most of them are or what they can contribute (if anything) to your health and nutrition.
2. Sodium. This is one of the most common preservatives on the market and you’ll find it in just about everything that isn’t totally natural. And while it might be present in small doses, the fact that it permeates processed and pre-packaged foods means that those little numbers can add up quickly throughout the day. Then there are the mega-offenders that come packed with half of your daily intake of sodium per serving (and three servings per package). And as you probably know, sodium is a big contributor to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other ailments (kidney stones, for one). We all need some sodium in our diet, but think about tracking your daily consumption in this area so you don’t go overboard.
3. MSG. Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer that is probably best known for its inclusion in Chinese food. It is also a known carcinogen (yup, it has been shown to cause cancer in test subjects) and is thought to contribute to heart disease. In short, it’s probably best to put back anything that has this ingredient on the label.
4. Trans fats. In case you hadn’t heard, these are the bad fats. They not only raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol, they also work to lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, making for a double whammy of health problems. Unfortunately, they tend to taste fantastic, which is why a lot of products still have them. However, considering that some states have now banned trans fat from restaurant cooking, it might be a good idea to skip foods that list them on the label, as well.
5. Artificial anything. Colors, flavors, and sweeteners that come with the precursor of “artificial” on the label should be avoided. These chemical cocktails may make your food look pretty and taste nice, but they aren’t the real deal and who knows what they could be doing to your body? Instead of opting for artificial, why not go with organic alternatives? You will almost certainly be surprised that foods grown and packaged without chemicals additives can be even more delicious than those that are manufactured to look and taste “better”.
Sarah Danielson writes for Asset labels where you can find custom security labels and stickers.