If you pick up any packaged food, such as a box of crackers or a salad dressing, you’ll find two labels: the ingredient list and the nutrition facts table, which tells you the nutrient content of the food including fat, protein, carbs, sugar, etc.
The mainstream health world has taught us to read the nutrition facts, and to pay attention to specifically the fat, carb, sugar, and sodium content. While this certainly can give you an idea of the nutrient content of the food, it can’t actually tell you if the food is healthy or not.
Why? What makes a food healthy or unhealthy depends on the ingredients that make it up.
Two boxes of crackers could have the exact same nutrition facts table: 20g of carbs, 4g of fat, 200mg of sodium, etc. When you look at the ingredient label, you’ll notice one is made up of white flour and lard, and the other is made up of brown rice, quinoa, and flax seeds, making it a far healthier choice. Had you of not looked at the ingredients and only the nutrition label, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference in how healthy vs unhealthy they were.
When reviewing an ingredient label, always look for foods and ingredients that you recognize or sound like whole-food ingredients, rather than artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, thickeners, etc. Even something as simple as canned tomatoes or tomato sauce can be incredibly deceiving, and may have far more unnecessary ingredients than you would expect. A quick check of the ingredient list can tell you if they’d added sugar, canola oil, or any thickeners or stabilizers.
A short ingredient list is often an indicator that a food is healthier, but not always. Use your well-earned knowledge to make your best judgement, and choose the option that seems to be the least processed and the closest to something that is actually grown or raised on a farm.
In a perfect world, we would focus heavily on purchasing eating foods that don’t contain labels at all, think fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and meat…but we know that convenience often wins, especially for truck drivers and those on the go, and we will likely always rely on packaged foods to some degree. Just do your best to choose the healthiest packaged foods you can find, and be sure to keep an eye on that ingredient label!
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