I remember how overwhelming the grocery store was several years ago when I started my health journey. I knew the produce section was healthy, but I had no idea how to tell which packaged food items were nutritious and which ones weren’t. But once you understand what to look for, it really becomes quite simple, and I’m here to help. Below are the areas you need to investigate on a food label:
The first and most important item we need to look at are the ingredients. Sometimes this list can be intimidating because it’s often times a mile long with things we can’t pronounce or have no clue what they even are. But here’s the thing, those are the products we want to stay away from anyways. When we read an ingredient list, every single ingredient should be an item we recognize and trust, otherwise known as REAL food and something that we might have in our pantry already. All of the other things like added sugars, preservatives, or basically anything that sounds like a chemical, just avoid it.
This is just a big, fat no. We don't ever want these in our diet since 99.9% of trans fat is produced artificially through a man-made process. They've been known to increase your risk of heart disease and weight gain significantly so avoid these completely. However, don't confuse trans fat with other fats, as fats are, in general, very good for us, especially the unsaturated kind.
Everyone knows sugar isn’t good for us. It suppresses our immune system, and excessive sugar consumption is highly correlated to the majority of the diseases we deal with today. Of course, some food has naturally occurring sugar like fruit, but what we really want to look out for are ADDED sugars to processed items. This is why it’s so important to look at the ingredients! Here’s where it gets tricky though...there are over 50 different names for sugar listed on food labels. Some of the common ones are cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but there are many more so if you see an ingredient you’re unsure about, just do a quick google search. Ideally, we want to limit our intake of added sugars as much as we can.
We love fiber! Fiber is excellent for us as it keeps our blood sugar levels stable (very important for overall health), helps us feel fuller longer and regulates our bowel movements. We want this number to be higher.
To help you guys understand this better, I chose two crackers from my local grocery store: one healthy and Jillian approved, and one unhealthy. I'll show you how they differ.
The first one is a healthy cracker. The second one is a typical cracker you'd find in the grocery store (aka not healthy) and probably grew up eating.
Check out the healthy cracker's ingredient list. I recognize what all of those ingredients are and I actually have a lot of them in my pantry right now! Also, there are 0g trans fat, 0g sugar, and some fiber, too. Sounds good to me!
Now let's look at the not-so-healthy cracker. There are tons of questionable ingredients that aren't good for us: canola oil, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, soy lecithin, etc. Do you have high fructose corn syrup or dextrose just sitting in your pantry!? Probably not. It's great that there's 0g trans fat, but there's also no fiber, and it includes some added sugar we'd like to avoid. I'll pass on this one. No, thanks!
Want to know what I almost never look at on a label? The calories! If you're eating high-quality, real food, you will feel amazing and not need to calorie count, so don't stress about this.
But real quick, one other thing I want to mention...always try to buy organic if you can! It may be a bit pricier, but it's best to avoid any dangerous chemicals from entering our bodies. YOU are the one who lives in your body every single day, so try to treat it with love and respect.
And there you have it! I hope this empowers you to make healthy choices and march into the grocery store with more confidence! If you have any further questions, let me know. I'm happy to help!