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I found myself in an unfamiliar grocery store last weekend, and I was impressed (shocked!) by the number of processed, artificial, and man-made foods they had there. Most of them were also nutrient free but some of them acted like they were healthy and nutritious, when they really were not made of foods I want in my body. So, I want to talk about reading the ingredient list today.

First Rule: If the product has no ingredient label – like oranges – that’s probably a safe food.

Second Rule: If you are unable or unwilling to read the label and the ingredient list, do not eat the food.

Third Rule: If you don’t know what the ingredient is, consider whether you should eat it. After all, what do nonhydrogenated mono and diglycerides look like? If you saw them in a bowl, would you recognize them? Would they be appetizing to you? And what do they do for your body anyway?

Now, how to read a nutrition facts label:

First, put in mind your goals. What are the foods you are avoiding? What part do you want this food to play in your daily life? Are you checking out new foods or hunting for a “legal” treat?

Second, look at the front of the package. Everything there is the manufacturer expressing his product in its best possible light. So take the claims on the front of the package with a careful eye. For instance, if it says “made with whole grain” that does not mean it is a whole grain product; it means that some small amount of whole grains has been added. If you want a whole grain food, then the first word on the ingredient list should be the word “Whole” If it’s not, then the product is not primarily whole grain. What else does the front of the package say? Do you see any warning signs that the product is not good for you?

Turn the package over and find the ingredients list. Read it. Look for foods containing unprocessed, recognizable ingredients.   Do you understand the ingredient names? Ingredients are listed in decreasing order by weight, so the first items on the list make up the bulk of the food.

If you see parentheses, that means that the item just before it has its own ingredients. They are listed in decreasing order by weight, too, but are counted as part of the first product. If the first or second ingredient has parentheses with or without sugar, ask yourself why? What made that necessary for this product? Could you buy a different product that does not have so many parentheses? Is there another product that does not have so many mixtures or is this what is necessary for the food?

If you are sugar sensitive, look for all the names for sugars and sugar alcohols and sugar substitutes. If there are sugars in the first five ingredients, look for a better product. If there are more than three sugars in a food, even in the parentheses, or after the fifth ingredient, look for a better product. If there are some sugars, and an artificial sugar substitute as well, ask yourself why they are all needed?

If you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize most of the ingredients, I recommend you put the product back on the shelf!

As I write this, it is brought back to me again how difficult this label reading is! This will be the first of a series on label reading. Will you please ask your questions in the comment section so I can be sure to answer them? And next time we will tackle that chart!  Realize please, label reading can be difficult, annoying and even painful, but it will put you back in control of what you are eating! It will give you the ability to control your choices about what you put in your body. That will lead you to Sane Food Freedom!

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