Product labelling can be confusing.
All these foods labelled as “fat-free” or “low in sugar” trick consumers into believing a product is a healthy choice.
But food is business and most companies are only interested in profit, and not your health.
So what do these claims really mean?
I’m going to decode the terms on everyday food products to make your next food shop a lot easier.
Let’s look at these food labels
What it Means: For a product to be labelled sugar-free, it must have under 0.5 grams of sugar per serving
Sugar-free products sound like the best ever creation. They keep the same sweet taste, but without packing any
sugars. Great right?
Well, not so fast. That’s not exactly how it works.
These sugar-free products, marketed as weight-loss friendly, aren’t that friendly at all.
This label essentially means artificial sweeteners, a modern construct produced in a laboratory, have taken the place of real food.
Although, artificial sweeteners don’t have calories, they are hundreds of times sweeter than real sugar.
This causes some serious confusion for your body.
When you eat something sweet, your body expects calories to follow.
Because artificial sweeteners don’t have any calories, your body looks for them later in the day (late night cravings).
THE NOT SO SWEET TRUTH ABOUT ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Weight gain has actually been noted as more common with artificial sweeteners than with processed sugar.
This is because the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners on your tongue triggers the release of insulin to offset the expected sugar.
However no actual sugar is being consumed and the insulin goes to work on whatever little sugar is actually in the body.
This results in hypoglycaemia, which in turn makes a person feel hungry. The person ends up eating more and may therefore gain weight over time.
It also doesn’t help that just like sugar, artificial sweeteners can be seriously addictive.
One study conducted on rats found that they were more easily addicted to saccharin, “an intense calorie-free sweetener,” than to cocaine.
What’s worse, multiple studies have shown artificial sweeteners to have a negative consequence on our health.
For example, a study from Purdue University has found that frequent consumers of these artificial sugar substitutes may be at an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
3 Letters On Food Labels To Avoid (like the plague)
Did you know that there are 3 letters on food labels to avoid, especially if they’re at the beginning of the list of ingredients?
Those letters are OSE.
Let me explain.
You see, spotting sugar on food labels isn’t quite as easy as it once was.
That’s right, now that food manufacturers are aware that consumers of the current day are much more discerning
than those of yesteryear, they’re doing everything they can to disguise sugar on their lists of ingredients.
These days, it’s not as common to see “sugar” at the forefront of an ingredients list.
Instead, you’ll see these code names:
And the worst of the worst, high fructose corn syrup.
If you see any of the above words ending in –ose in the first 3 or 4 ingredients on a food label, rest assured that product is LOADED with sugar, and you should be avoiding it.
It’s no secret that excess consumption of foods with added sugars like these can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity and variety of health issues.
Beyond that, I’ll go so far as to say that if a product contains high fructose corn syrup (the worst of the worst man-made sugars) in ANY amount, you should avoid it like the plague.
Simply put, the invention of high fructose corn syrup is one of the leading causes of obesity in the country.
Fat-Free, Low-Fat, Reduced-Fat
What These Terms Mean:
Fat-free foods makes us subconsciously think that they cannot make us ‘fat’.
We could not be more wrong.
In fact, many of these products have almost the same amount of calories as their ‘full fat’ counterpart.
The problem is that because fat has been taken out, something else has to be added in order to preserve the taste of the food.
To ensure that ‘fat-free- products aren’t also taste-free, companies often load the product with sugar to make up for the lost flavour.
Many of these products are higher in sodium, salt and other troublesome ingredients and additives.
This can quickly increase your intake of processed sugar to an unhealthy level.
This is particularly problematic because many tend to believe that foods labelled as ‘low-fat’ are also lower in calories.
This results in overeating and thus weight gain.
A Cornell University study found that people ate up to 50 percent more when a package was labelled “low-fat” compared to a package with no such labelling.
Next time you see a low-fat or fat-free label on a processed food, take the time to read the nutritional information to find out what the trade-off is.
DANGERS OF LOW FAT
Foods that replace healthy fats with sugars don’t have as much satiety power.
Sugars burn much faster than fats, therefore we get hungry more quickly and end up eating more.
It is also important to remember that fat is not your enemy.
Yes, even saturated fat can be good for you!
EVERYONE WAS WRONG
For over forty years now, it’s been thought of as nothing but artery clogging, obesity-causing poison.
This “common sense fact” has become so widely accepted that a lot of people who want to improve their diet start by purchasing skimmed milk, ditching their egg yolks, and beginning a life free of steak, pork, and butter.
WE’VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE
This one started in 1970, with the first publication of “The Seven Countries Study.”
The research looked at the incidences of saturated fat intake and heart disease among 12,763 men from seven different countries, and showed a correlation between the two.
Unfortunately, the study was deeply flawed: It didn’t take into account important factors like smoking rates, sugar consumption, and exercise levels, and it left out an awful lot of data from other countries that contradicted the conclusions.
The study’s authors actually had access to twenty-two countries’ data, and didn’t discuss any of the populations that followed diets with plenty of saturated fat and barely experienced any heart disease.
Such communities include the Kenyan Masai, the Tokelau in Polynesia, and the Arctic Inuit.
In the past 30 years in the UK, the amount of calories from consumed fat has fallen from 40 percent to 30 percent, while obesity has doubled and heart disease has remained the country’s number two killer.
WHY FAT (INCLUDING SOME SATURATED FATS) CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU
Saturated fat has been shown to have loads of positive effects on the body, including:
Now, fat is high in calories, so it can promote weight gain in that respect.
Per gram, it has more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates so you still need to keep an eye on portion sizes.
Saturated fat in itself doesn’t have any negative impact on the body.
In fact, increasing fat intake might help with weight loss.
One study found that when three groups of obese people were fed diets of 90 percent fat, 90 percent protein, and 90 percent carbohydrates, respectively, the high-fat group lost the most weight.
DROP THAT SAUSAGE ROLL!
This doesn’t mean every source of saturated fat is healthy.
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that after analysing the diets of 1.2 million people, there was no association between eating red meat and heart disease — but there was for those who ate a lot of processed meat .
That is to say, if we’re going to get sick from eating meat or saturated fat, it’ll be by getting it from a bad source.
The body loves saturated fat, but from sources like grass-fed meat and butter, whole eggs, and coconut fat.
NOT sausage rolls and pepperoni pizza.
Dietary fat is crucial for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A, D, K and E. All of which are essential to your health.
You should keep the amount of fat in your diet down to 20- 30%, depending on an individual’s variables.
They key is to eat the right amount of the right kind.
Completely eliminating fat from your diet is dangerous to your health.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE EATING
The best thing you can do for yourself is to carefully read the ingredient and nutritional label.
If you find a long list of ingredients, many of which you can’t pronounce, I suggest you put the product down.
Choose whole, natural foods. The closer the food is to its source, the less you have to worry about the influx of unknown, harmful chemicals.
By a mile, the biggest enemy in our food is likely refined sugar .
What about Organic? Is it worth the extra money?
So, first things first. What exactly does “organic” mean when it is placed on a food label?
Since it is a term regulated by the USDA, with it comes specific requirements.
For animals, it means that they were fed organically grown food containing no pesticides, have access to the outdoors, and receive no antibiotics.
For plant-based foods, it means that it has been certified to have been grown in soil that has had no prohibited substances (including most synthetic fertilisers and pesticides) applied to it three years prior to harvest.
If we’re just talking taste, it depends whether you would be able to taste the difference between something that’s conventional versus something that is organic.
It’s easier to taste the difference between organic and non-organic milk, it’s not so easy to taste the difference between organic and non-organic chicken.
And from a size perspective, organic certainly doesn’t appear to be worth its increased price since conventionally raised animals are often bigger since they are fed a diet to maximize growth.
Likewise, the price per pound of organic produce is usually significantly higher than conventionally grown produce, so you’re essentially paying more and getting less when it comes to organic.
BUT, on the health front, while there are some studies that do not show a significant health benefit from eating an organic diet versus a conventional one, a recent meta-analysis from the British Journal of Nutrition suggests otherwise.
For instance, the study found that if a consumer was to switch to an organic diet, they would consume 20-40% more antioxidants without having to consume more food or calories than they did on a conventional diet.
This is due to the findings that show organically grown food is higher in these disease-preventing compounds than conventionally grown food.
In addition, the study found that conventionally grown crops were four times more likely to contain pesticide residues than organically grown crops.
So is buying organic food worth it?
Well I’d say yes if you can afford it.
But, not everyone can afford to go full organic, and that’s where the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes in.
The non-profit organisation publishes research yearly based on the level of pesticides found in fruits and vegetables, and ranks them from worst to best.
Below is a list of 14 food items using the EWG and other researchers’ information that you should prioritise to buy organic.
If you’re going to buy just one thing organic, make it apples. They consistently appear at the top of the EWG’s offenders list, harbouring a number of pesticides that traditional farmers use to keep pests and disease at bay. Most of the harmful stuff is contained in the skin, but it’s also the healthiest part of the apple. Luckily, organic versus non-organic apples has one of the lowest price differences, so you won’t be paying double for your peace of mind.
2. BABY FOOD
Many doctors think that babies are more susceptible to the potential negative health impacts of pesticides. When your baby begins to transition to solid food, it’s a good idea to feed your child organic whenever possible. This is especially true for the fruits and vegetables on this list, since they tend to have more pesticide residue in the first place. To offset the increase in cost, consider buying in bulk.
3. STRAWBERRIES AND BLUEBERRIES
Berries are sensitive and heavily exposed — they don’t have a tough outer shell or skin to protect them. Because they grow largely unprotected, they are more susceptible to pests, and pesticides are often the solution.
4. PEACHES AND NECTARINES
These delicious stone fruits have thin, edible skins and are naturally delicate, so they are typically sprayed with various poisons to keep them from moulding and to keep away pests. Even if you peel your peaches or nectarines, traces of chemicals will remain.
Celery also scored high on EWG’s list, with 13 chemicals detected in total. The crunchy veggie is porous and grows largely outside of the ground, so it absorbs chemicals easily.
6. PEANUT BUTTER
Considering the amount of potatoes an average Brit consumes, switching to organic potatoes is a no-brainer. Even if you’re scrubbing and peeling your potatoes, there’s a very good chance they still contain potentially-harmful chemicals. The EWG found that the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food tested. So before mashing or frying or baking, shell out a few more cents for organic potatoes and put your mind at ease
Delicate greens, including spinach, lettuce, kale, and collard greens all make it in the top 15 of EWG’s list. Many highly toxic chemicals are permitted on leafy greens, and even chemicals that were banned in recent years can still be absorbed through the soil and show up in the plants. If you are a frequent salad eater, just go ahead and buy organic. The EWG recommends that kale and collard green lovers that don’t buy organic should consider cooking before eating.
Tomatoes are one of the only fruits or vegetables that has been proven to be more nutritious in organic form. According to a study, organic tomatoes have nearly double the concentration of flavonoids, which are considered very healthful. Conventional tomatoes also made the EWG naughty list, so the choice seems clear: organic all the way.
Peppers rank high on the list, as these colourful veggies tend to have surprising amounts of pesticides remaining on them. Go organic when you can, and when eating conventional peppers be sure to give them a nice, cold bath. Cooking also helps to reduce the amount of chemicals present.
During the EWG’s testing, they found a single grape with fifteen different pesticides present. Gross. Because they ripen quickly and end up attracting insects, grapes often get sprayed with a multitude of chemicals to keep them untouched and in perfect eating order. If you can’t find organic or can’t stomach the price tag, buy seasonally from a local source and give them a good wash.
12. MEAT (IF YOU ARE OUTSIDE OF THE EU)
The European Union has already banned the use of hormones in cattle, but the practice is still permitted in many other countries, including the U.S. These hormones can remain in the meat, and the potential health effects of ingesting them on a regular basis is not yet well studied. But buying organic meat is as much about the potential health risks of the growth hormones and antibiotics as it is about choosing the more humane option. Organic cattle are typically given more space, allowed to graze, and fed natural feed so that they can live a happy and healthy life before making it to the plate.
Conventional varieties of this refreshing vegetable are typically treated with a petroleum-based wax to preserve freshness. This wax is also good at holding on to already present pesticides, and is impossible to completely wash off at home. Organic varieties omit this wax, making them a superior produce aisle choice. When eating the conventional version, be sure to wash and peel the cucumber — although this does not guarantee removal of all chemicals, and it removes some of the nutrients.
14. HOT PEPPERS
For those who indulge in spice on a regular basis, try to buy organic hot peppers whenever possible. Conventional hot peppers often have high levels of harmful pesticides, partly because a few especially nasty chemicals are permitted on peppers that aren’t allowed on other common crops.
Keep all of this in mind the next time you make a trip to the supermarket.
If you’re going to start a lifestyle of healthy nutrition you need to know what foods to buy.
Do you know what you should be looking for in the supermarket?
If you’re going to buy a yoghurt for example, can you identify which is the healthiest choice?
Do you understand the nutritional labels and ingredients on the foods you’re buying to enable you to confidently identify whether an item marketed as ‘healthy’ truly is or not?
How do you avoid the temptations of buying junk food?
You need to be confident with these things and making sure you’re filling your fridge and cupboards with the right stuff.
This is all part of the Mark Personal Training coaching.
Ready to jump on board?
Contact me now