From Highly Processed Foods to Simple Foods: A Lesson in Label-Reading

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reading a nutrition label

When I first decided I wanted to start eating healthier food, I thought that processed “diet” foods were the way to go. I bought 100-calorie packs of various snacks, low calorie and low fat cereal, and TV dinners. At the grocery store, I looked at nutrition labels, but mostly only to see the caloric content. I thought that I was being a smart consumer.

I was completely wrong.

Not only did processed foods leave me feeling unsatisfied, but I hate to think of all the artificial ingredients and chemicals they put into my body, too. I soon realized that if I wanted to REALLY get healthy, I needed to read nutrition labels… but in a completely different way from before.

To put it simply: simple is better. Now, I focus my main shopping efforts on the outside corners of the store where the fresh foods reside. When I go into the center aisles, I don’t buy anything that has a long list of ingredients of anything that I can’t pronounce or don’t understand. This is one of the reasons I immediately loved Attune Foods and their products – the simple ingredient lists! Check out the ingredient list on the Uncle Sam original cereal: whole wheat kernels, whole flaxseed, salt, barley malt.

It’s so nice to see only a few ingredients listed – and all things I understand!

In addition to all the scary chemical additives, another reason to avoid processed foods is sodium content. Processed foods contain a lot of sodium. It’s recommended to stay below 2,300 mg of sodium per day (less than 1,500 mg per day if you’re 51 years or older), but many processed foods, like soup, can easily contain over half of your daily sodium value in just one small can. For example, consider the label below from a can of soup. It states that there are 690 mg of sodium per serving of soup, but wait – look closer! The serving size is only half the can! Who actually eats half a can of soup? Therefore, someone eating this soup would likely end up consuming nearly 1400 mg of sodium from a bowl of soup alone.

nutrition label example

Also, even something labeled “lower/reduced sodium” may still be high in sodium. Lower/reduced sodium just indicates that it’s lower in sodium that the original product, which may have been really high to start with! This is often the case with reduced sodium soy sauce and soup. A better thing to look for is “low sodium.” To be labeled low sodium, a product has to be 140 mg or less of sodium per serving. Much better! But it’s still better to try to make the food yourself (homemade soup is really easy – try my Easy Homemade Vegetable Minestrone Soup recipe!) or find a less processed version of the product, if possible.

Are you an ingredient label reader? What do you look for in a product? Has what you look for changed over the years, like it has for me?

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