One of the best things you can do to ensure your good health is to learn how to read food labels and to understand what you're eating and where it comes from. There's a lot of jargon on the labels that can confuse, befuddle and make digesting the information more difficult than digesting the product! But there are a few tricks in there that are utilised by food producers to get away with non-legitimate claims. Knowing what you are looking for and identifying what is true for you is a little bit of education that is important for making the right choices.
A few key things to look out for:
1. If it can last for years on a shelf, it can sit around on your butt for just as long. Processed foods are manufactured to avoid pests, rot, spoilage etc. and food producers prefer these foods because their return on investment is far higher. They can control the raw ingredients that they use and can thus control the prices that they pay for things like refined grains, sugars, additives, preservatives etc. by playing agricultural producers off against each other. The more processes and ingredients a product goes through - the worse it is for your health and the higher the profit margin for the company because they have economies of scale. Naturally occurring foods don't sit on shelves for years, they compost. If it doesn't naturally spoil or rot, and a bug wouldn't eat it - should you be? Indulge every once in a while, but these foods are NOT the foundations of good health, weight and body fat management and they should NOT be the bulk of what you eat. This includes innocuous "foods" such as sauces, dips etc.
2. If it has a marketing budget and they spend a lot of money to tell you exactly how good it is for you and slap ticks, "Now with added X" or any kind of checklist on the front, you shouldn't be eating it regularly. There are no sales departments and advertisements for apples or cabbages.
3. Relative to the above, a marketing team will make every effort possible to tell you how good their food is. This means that on the labels you can generally find an indicator of the GI of a food. A foods GI is NOT an indicator of its quality or value in relation to a fat loss goal or health.
Case in point - fats will lower the GI of a food as lipids are digested far slower than proteins or carbohydrates. So if a food has a lot of fat - it is a low GI food. Mars bars, picnics, full fat ice creams are GI. Should they be considered part of a balanced, healthy diet? NO.
4. If you can't pronounce it, don't put it in your mouth*. Anything you buy from a packet should have one ingredient and it's exactly the same as what is listed on the front of the package, i.e "rolled oats," "bran," "coffee" etc. If you don't believe that your diet can have much variety with just natural plant foods, dairy products, lean proteins and whey protein - then you obviously haven't bought my eBook.
*This also goes for cosmetics, skin care and hygiene products too, ladies. Your pores are like thousands of tiny little mouths. You wouldn't wash your face at the petrol bowser, so don't put petrochemicals on your skin. Check that your favourite brands don't contain phthalates, sulphates, parabens or other known toxins at the EWG Skin Deep database. There are plenty of Australian companies that produce skin care and cosmetic products that only contain organic vegetable matter, contact me if you want a few good brands to try.
4. If a product's fibre content is high relative to it's total carbohydrate - it's low GI. If those fibres are natural, it's a better choice, but if it's manufactured, fake fibres such as malitol, it'll give your digestive system a "run" for it's money, pardon the pun. Avoid.
5. If a product's fat content is high and its sugar content is also high (the package will read "total carbohydrates" then below will have another figure "from sugars"), AVOID.
6. Soy proteins are cheap, as are HCFS and all manner of refined sugars and corn derivatives. The vast majority of foods in the centre shelves of your supermarket are made from processing soy or corn beyond recognition. Learn the names of these products and avoid them. 2 for the price of 1 deals are frequent on foods that contain these ingredients for the reasons listed in #1.
7. When purchasing certain products, it is best to go organic or to purchase an alternative product in a different packaging. For example - BPA is a toxin which is present in most plastic products which mimics oestrogen. It is present in drink bottles, plastic containers etc. and can leech out of canned tomatoes and other products whereas a glass jar will not have any adverse effects. If you can't afford all organic or free range produce then splurge on these as they are the most heavily laden with pesticides and sprays such as berries, coffee, soft skinned orchard fruits such as apples, pears etc and soft-skinned and leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. Always buy free range, organic eggs. They're higher in Omega 3s, essential fatty acids and vitamins. Besides, how would you like to be holed up in a cage where you can't move around for your whole life, jabbed with antibiotics and needles to keep you "healthy" after you've had your nose cut off, "lucky" to have survived being gassed simply because you weren't born a male? Yeah.... didn't think so. Root vegetables can't get sprayed for obvious reasons, so it's not so much of a problem there. If you can afford it, buy free range and organic meats and grass fed beef. It's far better for you AND for the environment, plus a happy cow is a tasty cow. If you can't afford grass fed beef - kangaroo is a great alternative which is far cheaper, higher in protein and is sustainably farmed.
8. Don't jump on the "wholegrain" bandwagon.
Legally a manufacturer can claim that their product has a wholegrain even if that product has been through a multitude of processes. As long as the "whole grain" has been used, they can and will health wash it any way they like.
Does a whole grain that's been milled and pulverised and fluffed and manipulated in all manner of interesting ways to look NOTHING like it did originally still constitute a "whole" grain? Also: Corn is a grain.
There's nothing to stop a tomato sauce manufacturer from telling you that their product contains whole grains.
Wait for it, it will probably happen!
9. Be sceptic of appeals to persuade. Now that people are consuming stevia in favour of artificial sweeteners, there'll be a plethora of "stevia sweetened" products lining your supermarket shelves in a matter of months and this is already happening. The food industry is the fastest moving, most evil and corruptive industry I can think of. Ask yourself before you buy something: "Does this company have my health, or their wallets front of mind?"
I'm sure a local, organic farmer could answer that question much more honestly than any marketing department. Why not go to your local farmers market and ask them? Taking an interest in your ingestion is perhaps a great space to start to look at how best to make the most of your food and maintain your own individual health.