How to read labels: How to be a smart buyer?

There are more than hundreds of thousands products available in the supermarket today. But do we know everything about them? Is it even possible to know everything about all the products? Wouldn’t it make our lives SO MUCH easier? It would also empower us and educate us to know what we are consuming, feeding our kids, parents and families.

So what should be the general guidelines we should look at before buying? Why is it important? Because there are so many food items (old and incoming), that it’s not possible to know which products are good and which are bad. Plus advice from people many times is confusing and conflicting. So how do we read labels to find how healthy or unhealthy the foods we buy are?

The secret of buying a ‘healthy’ food or any food for that matter is simple. It’s a collection of few basics which make or break a food (in terms of being healthy)

Organic or not?:

Ideally any product (or all the ingredients in it) should be organic. If not, it’s not a deal breaker if not ideal. It really depends on the food.

Fortified with nutrients: Where are they coming from?:

Secondly, It should have all nutrients from natural sources. That’s because synthetic vitamins and minerals have a poor rate of bio-absorption in our bodies. Natural nutrients come with a combination of compounds, precursors, enzymes, which help in digestion and absorption of each other but also many other nutrients from foods.

Sugar: Make or Break:

Thirdly, it should have no or very little sugar. It also should not have sugar substitutes some of which are worse on the glycemic index than sugar. This is the make or break point in all the products. Generally speaking, there is too much sugar in terms of quantities and varieties in most products in market.

Fats? When are they good? When are they bad?:

Fourthly, it should not have any hydrogenated fats, vegetable oils, or  any cheap kind of fats that would count as trans fats or omega six fats. While trans fats are low quality fats, too many omega six fats are not ideal for health (We need a ratio of 1:1 between omega three and omega six fats, most diets in modern world are around 1:15). Lastly, the items should have less preservatives or less salt or ideally none of the preservatives and little salt. There are exceptions in fermented foods and some other cases, but in most cases of buying in a supermarket or a chain store, these rules will help you make a wise decision.

What do the ingredients indicate?:

Fifth, the ingredients usually as a rule are mentioned in decreasing quantity of how much of a particular ingredient is present in a product and if the bad ingredients are at the beginning, it would almost all the time indicate the product in question is unhealthy.

Sixth, it should not have combination of sugars with all other synonyms for sugars or combination of above unhealthy components. Having one bad ingredient in traces is fine but having combination of bad ingredients is very unhealthy.

What is the calorie business about?:

And lastly, calories do not matter for the most part. I would like to clear that to a large extent, foods being called healthy/unhealthy depend upon how much they influence your hormones and what they do to the body after consuming them rather than how many calories are in a particular food. Hence I will not speak about calories anywhere because counting calories is a failed concept.

Basically calorie system tells us a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from. Hence as per that logic, 100 calories of a cola drink and 100 calories of broccoli are equal, which you know sound insanely wrong on many levels. It doesn’t take a genius to debunk the calorie system (using seconds with the broccoli/cola analogy) and hence I am not going to use that for comparison or analysis of anything.

Discussion points:

So, now you are empowered about how to read labels. I intend to keep educating with many, many products we see in the chain stores and supermarkets with detailed analysis of how healthy/unhealthy they are, products that you shouldn’t buy, and good finds in the supermarkets in the blog series titled ‘How to be a smart buyer?’ It will be a series of blogs focusing on things associated with smart, healthy shopping in modern era and keeping health on track in line with consumerism.