How to Read Ingredient Labels to Pick the Healthiest Option


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I was reading the label on a box of crackers wondering why there are so many unnecessary additives I can’t pronounce. Perhaps you are baffled by ingredient lists and want to understand exactly what you are putting into your body.

Reading ingredient labels can feel overwhelming. Here are some simple tips to help navigate the maze of words.

1. Take the front of the box with a huge grain of salt.

Buzz words like “cauliflower,” “natural,” “light,” “baked,” “low fat,” even “organic” can be misleading. This says nothing about the exact contents or quality of the ingredients you are ingesting.

2. Notice the first ingredient.

Ingredients are listed by the highest amount in descending order. This means the first ingredient will generally be the majority of the product. This will give you a good idea if your actually eating “cauliflower” crackers or just cornflour crackers with a sprinkling of cauliflower powder at the end. If the first ingredient is understandable and clean, continue scanning the rest of the ingredients.

3. Stick with what you know and would recognize in your own pantry.

As you scan down the ingredients, ask yourself: Do I have this in my own pantry at home? Corn syrup? Artificial flavor? No? Pass. Also, skip on the ingredients you don’t recognize as they are most likely preservatives and additives.

4. Keep it Simple.

We are all about minimizing the noise. Generally, look for simple, short ingredient lists. If there is a laundry list of unrecognizable words, ingredients that include numbers, or any ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it back. The best products have simple, clean, whole-food ingredients.

5. Beware of sugar. In all its forms.

Cane sugar can sneak into the most unexpected packaged item ingredient list. If you can avoid cane sugar altogether, great. If it is far down on the ingredient list and the nutrition label lists it as a low amount, it might be okay. Look out for other forms of sugar such as

  • Dextrose.
  • Fructose.
  • Galactose.
  • Glucose.
  • Lactose.
  • Maltose.
  • Sucrose.

I generally don’t mind a little bit of coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, stevia, or monk fruit included in an otherwise clean ingredient list. They are less refined and are a healthier alternative to other forms of sugar.

6. Watch for inflammatory oils.

Most packaged products cut costs by using inferior oils in their products. Canola, Rapeseed, or other vegetable oils can be very inflammatory. The best oils to look for are avocado, olive, or no oil at all.

You are now equipped to be a better-informed consumer in the grocery store. Check those ingredient lists and make sure you are happy with what’s in them, and it is contributing to your health goals!

What brands have you found that have clean ingredients? Let us know in the comments.

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