By Jo Schaalman and Julie Pelaez of the Conscious Cleanse
What does it mean to be a label detective? In short, it means getting curious about what’s in the food you eat. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, unfortunately reading nutrition labels can be a confusing endeavor. The amount of calories or sugar are important, but they don’t tell the entire story.
Most people will look at this nutrition information and narrow in on the macros – the amount of protein, fat, or carbohydrates. While this can be important, we want you to go a step further so that you don’t have to become a dietician in order to know what you’re eating is considered a healthy or clean food.
If at any point you feel like you get lost in the weeds then just remember this: whole foods that exist in nature do not require confusing labels. The less labels you have to interpret the better.
The cleaner your food, the fewer complications you are likely to encounter. Just because a product says it’s “gluten free” or “USDA organic” or “kosher” or “non-GMO” doesn’t mean it’s a perfectly “clean” food.
Read on to learn how to become a pro at being a label detective.
Step number one of becoming a proficient label detective is to make it a habit of look at the nutrition label facts on the back of every single product you purchase. Yes, you read that correctly. Simply making it part of your routine of pulling a product off the shelf at the grocery store or from your pantry, turn it over, get out your reading glasses (if necessary!) and take a look at the panel on the back called “Nutrition Facts.”
Step number two of becoming a proficient label detective is to narrow in on the list of ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the better. If you see something on that list of ingredients that you (or a third grader) can’t pronounce, keep it out of your grocery basket. This is one of the most powerful steps you can take to ensure that you’re eating a clean diet.
Step number three of becoming a proficient label detective is to be able to spot the numerous hidden names for sugar and to avoid them at all costs. The average American consumes more than 82 grams of sugar per day according to the University of California, San Francisco. That’s well over the recommended amount.
Here are a few hidden names for sugar that you might find on a nutrition label: aspartame, barley malt, beet sugar, cane juice, fructose (or anything ending is -ose), fruit juice, corn syrup.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed the most important steps to becoming a label detective!
But wait...what about all the nutrition facts?! This is where you’ll find serving size, servings per container, the number of calories, fat grams, sodium, carbohydrates, total sugar, protein, and a few noteworthy vitamins and minerals.
This is where things can get a little confusing. In short, you can keep an eye on the following targets, but remember whole foods that exist in nature (and don’t come in packages typically) will always give you nature’s best!
Calories: This can vary greatly between men and women but aim to eat around 2,000/day.
Total fat: The recommended dietary fat in adults is 20% to 35% of total calories from fat. That is about 44 grams to 77 grams of fat per day if you eat 2,000 calories a day.
Trans fat: Trans fat is no longer “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA so you should always look for a zero here,
Sodium: This is one of the most important items to look at on the Nutrition Facts label because so many processed foods contain added sodium. While the Daily Value is 2,300 mg, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and others urge the government recommendation to be lowered to 1,500 mg.
Added sugar: Another crucial number to pay close attention to on the Nutrition Facts label. While the Daily Value recommendation is 50 grams, the American Heart Association recommends keeping it to 25-36 grams per day.