Knowing how to read food labels is essential to successfully changing your eating habits. Ultimately, the healthiest eating habits avoid packaged and processed foods as much as possible, but practically speaking, processed foods will likely make their way into your grocery carts. To ensure that these foods don't sabotage your healthy living efforts, it's important to know how to read labels!
Sugars are one of the sneakiest ingredients. Foods marketed as "low fat" usually contain added sugars to help with flavoring, and sugar helps to extend the shelf life of packaged foods. It's important to limit your sugar intake wherever possible, and to aim for naturally occurring sugars when you do consume them - such as the sugars found in fruits or starchy vegetables.
It's important to always read the ingredient labels when purchasing packaged foods, but sugar isn't always easy to find in those lists. There are over fifty different terms for added sugars - try to familiarize yourself with these so that you can recognize when sugar is sneaking into your food. Here are some quick tips to help you remember what to watch for:
- Look out for "-ose" words - these are usually sugars! Terms like "glucose," "fructose," and "maltose" are all just different words for sugars. If you see a word ending in "-ose" in the ingredients list, chances are sugar has been added to the food.
- "Natural" sugars are still sugars! It's easy to be tricked into thinking that there are "healthy" versions of sugars. A huge amount of money goes into marketing for packaged foods. Things like agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, and date sugar might sound like healthier ways to sweeten your foods, but they're still considered sugars and they'll have the same effect on your diet as plain old table sugar.
- "Low/Reduced Sugar" is not formally defined by the FDA. If you see claims of "Reduced sugar" on packages, approach with caution. The FDA does not define what constitutes "low sugar," because the term is in relation to the "standard" version of the same food. So sure, maybe those Oreos have less sugar than their regular counterparts...but they still contain sugar and will still have an impact on your health goals!
- Artificial sweeteners are not the answer! We'll have more on this in a future "Tip Tuesday" post, but be wary of adding artificial sweeteners like aspartame, splenda, or sucralose. While they may not have the same caloric impact of real sugar, artificial sweeteners can make you crave more sweet foods, undermining your efforts to choose healthier options.
Interested in reading more about sugars in your foods? The following links were used in researching this post and contain more helpful information!