What once was a quick and mindless trip to the grocery store for a few staples has turned into an exercise that requires patience, knowledge, and reading hundreds of words in fine print (most of which seem like they belong on an advanced chemistry exam instead of a box of food). I am talking of course about reading food labels. To those living a gluten-free lifestyle, this is no doubt preaching to the choir. But reading food labels no matter what diet you are following is always a great idea. What could be more important to your health than knowing what you are putting into your body?
Part of what makes reading food labels so important is seeing through the lies of advertising. It is tempting not to read food labels when the front of the package may state “gluten free” or “trans fat free.” But are these accurate statements? Well, turn the package around and see what actually goes into the food. That is where food companies cannot lie to you. They may be able to say “gluten free” on the front, but you’d be surprised how many foods either use possible gluten-containing or potentially gluten cross-contaminated ingredients. And remember, it won’t be the CEO of the food company that sits on the toilet all night dealing with diarrhea, a rash, and bloating if the food turns out to contain even a little bit of gluten. It will be you, so take the time, turn the package around and see what’s in your food.
Beyond gluten and trans fat, there are many other important reasons to read food labels. Reading the nutrition facts is of course important, but reading ingredients may be even more important. Overall calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates is important information, but knowing the ingredients themselves is even more empowering. On food labels, ingredients are listed in order of percentage of overall weight. So the first handful of ingredients on the list will comprise most of what goes into making that particular food. This is another useful way to see through lies, or at least disingenuous statements made on packaging. If a cereal claims to be made from whole grain, read the ingredients and see where whole grain appears. If the first few ingredients are sugar, corn meal, or corn sugar, there isn’t as much whole grain as you think. Whole grain something (oat flour, corn flour, etc) should be the very first ingredient. Additionally, those living gluten-free also often have allergies to other foods or ingredients as well. You’d be surprised, for instance, by how much dairy is in food that according to common sense shouldn’t contain dairy.
Also be aware of how many ingredients are in the food you are buying. As a general rule of thumb, the less ingredients in your food the better. Peanut butter should contain only peanuts and salt. Potato chips should contain only potatoes, oil, and salt. You’d be shocked how much of the seemingly simple and straightforward food you buy has 15-20 ingredients in it, most of which you’ve probably never heard of and sound more like chemical weapons than edible food.
Living gluten-free and/or living with food allergies is a huge burden. Having to read every label of every food you buy is exhausting and downright annoying at times. And especially when food labels often lie right to your face on the packaging. But it is of vital importance to take responsibility for your own diet and health conditions and shop accordingly. Again I ask, what could be more important to your health than what foods, nutrients, and ingredients you are putting into your body? Nothing, to answer a rhetorical question. And perhaps you’ll grow tired of reading long and complicated food labels and stick to buying more whole, raw foods. This is healthier anyway. Fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meats, and unprocessed grains don’t need food labels. A banana contains a banana. A ribeye steak contains a ribeye steak. And when you go home and cook it yourself, you know exactly what you’re putting into it, exactly how it’s being prepared, and that every effort is being made to prevent cross-contamination and avoid food allergies. Once you’re used to reading food labels and ingredient lists, you will start to feel empowered as a consumer and get a sense of what actually goes into your food. A little bit of basic food knowledge and attention to detail with food labels will go a long way towards helping you become a more informed, healthier, and happier consumer.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube