I found a great article by Dr. Mark Hyman on how to read labels and purchase healthy food. He agrees with my rule of thumb: If the package has more than four (he says five) ingredients, beware! And don’t let the pretty packaging with health claims trick you.
- Ideally have only food without labels in your kitchen or foods that don’t come in a box, a package, or a can. There are labeled foods that are great, like sardines, artichoke hearts, or roasted red peppers, but you have to be very smart in reading the labels. There are two things to look for: the ingredient list and the nutrition facts. Check out my special report on “How to Read Labels” for more information.
Where is the primary ingredient on the list? If the real food is at the end of the list and the sugar or salt is at the beginning, beware. The most abundant ingredient is listed first and the others are listed in descending order by weight. Be conscious, too, of ingredients that may not be on the list; some ingredients may be exempt from labels. This is often true if the food is in a very small package, if it has been prepared in the store, or if it has been made by a small manufacturer. Beware of these foods.
- If a food has a label it should have fewer than five ingredients. If it has more than five ingredients, throw it out. Also beware of food with health claims on the label. They are usually bad for you – think ”sports beverages.” I recently saw a bag of deep-fried potato chips with the health claims “gluten-free, organic, no artificial ingredients, no sugar” and with fewer than 5 ingredients listed. Sounds great, right? But remember, cola is 100 percent fat-free and that doesn’t make it a health food.
- If sugar (by any name, including organic cane juice, honey, agave, maple syrup, cane syrup, or molasses) is on the label, throw it out. There may be up to 33 teaspoons of sugar in the average bottle of ketchup. Same goes for white rice and white flour, which act just like sugar in the body. If you have diabetes – the spectrum of metabolic imbalances starting with just a little belly fat, leading all the way to diabetes— you can’t easily handle any flour, even whole-grain. Throw it out.
- Throw out any food with high-fructose corn syrup on the label. It is a super sweet liquid sugar that takes no energy for the body to process. Some high-fructose corn syrup also contains mercury as a by-product of the manufacturing process. Many liquid calories, such as sodas, juices, and “sports” drinks, contain this metabolic poison. It always signals low quality or processed food.
- Throw out any food with the word hydrogenated on the label. This is an indicator of trans fats, vegetable oils converted through a chemical process into margarine or shortening. They are good for keeping cookies on the shelf for long periods of time without going stale, but these fats have been proven to cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. New York City and most European counties have banned trans fats, and you should, too.
- Throw out any highly refined cooking oils such as corn, soy, etc. (I will explain which oils to buy in Week 1 of the program in my book The Blood Sugar Solution). Also avoid toxic fats and fried foods.
- Throw out any food with ingredients you can’t recognize, pronounce, or that are in Latin.
- Throw out any foods with preservatives, additives, coloring or dyes, “natural flavorings,” or flavor enhancers such as MSG (monosodium glutamate).
- Throw out food with artificial sweeteners of all kinds (aspartame, Splenda, sucralose, and sugar alcohols—any word that ends with “ol” like xylitol, sorbitol). They make you hungrier, slow your metabolism, give you bad gas, and make you store belly fat.
- If it came from the earth or a farmer’s field, not a food chemist’s lab, it’s safe to eat. As Michael Pollan says, if it was grown on a plant, not made in a plant, then you can keep it in your kitchen. If it is something your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, throw it out (like a “lunchable” or go-gurt”). Stay away from “food-like substances.”