I spend a lot of time reading food labels. I read them in order to make informed choices. I do not seek to achieve some imagined level of dietary perfection. I use the information on food labels as just that, information, rather than as a flat directive of good versus bad. While foods without labels are ideal, such as meat, eggs and fresh vegetables, I do consume processed foods. When it comes to processed foods, I begin with asking myself the question “Does this appear to be something I might eat”.
In my world, something like Doritos qualifies as a “hyper food” meaning hyper-processed or hyperpalatable (or ultra-processed). As I am not stranded on an island with a crate of Doritos as my only food source, “hyper foods” are skipped the vast majority of the time. Besides, “hyper foods” are usually chock full of carbohydrates! Yah, Doritos and many other high carb processed foods are flatly bad and I have eliminated them as a possibility.
My goal is to minimize spikes in blood glucose and insulin. Carbohydrates impact blood glucose and insulin release, thus I have a low carb/ketogenic lifestyle. Starting out, stick to the basic tenant of counting carbs. Eventually, your focus may likely to shift to food quality and that is when evaluating ingredients will become even more important. Label reading skills are good to develop and it does take time to learn the ins and outs of ingredients.
Here is the general flow I use when checking out a food.
- What are the total carbs per serving?
- What is the serving size? Is the serving size realistic?
- How many grams of sugar?
- Does it contain added sugar?
- Does it contain sugar alcohols?
- How many grams of fiber?
- What is the net carb count?
- If the manufacturer has listed net carbs on the package, does the net carb count I calculate myself match their number?
- What is the conservative net carb count (counting half the carbs from sugar alcohols toward my carb count)?
Evaluate The Ingredient List
- At a glance, is the ingredient list short, long, or super long?
- The longer it is, the harder I look for suspect ingredients.
- What are the first 5 ingredients?
- The ingredient at the highest percentage (by weight) goes first, then then next highest, etc.
- If the ingredients list has more than 5-6 ingredients, it may be a sign the product has been heavily processed
- Are there ingredients that I do not recognize?
- This is less about freaking out over an ingredient and more about educating myself.
- If you are a novice food label reader, do not stressed out over what you do not recognize.
- Embrace the learning process and focus on your main goal. If you are reading from this blog it is likely the amount of carbs and sugar. Identify your main priority and stay focused.
- I go straight to the ingredient list and look for added fats, that is, fats that are not naturally occurring in the food.
- I choose to avoid hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated fats, and corn, canola and soybean vegetable oils.
Soy & Other Ingredients
- I choose to avoid soy protein, soy protein isolate and soy flour
- I choose to avoid seitan (vital wheat gluten, wheat meat, vital wheat protein, textured wheat protein, wheat gluten, vital gluten)
Every now and then, I may consume foods that would qualify as keto krap. For the most part, I eat pretty clean and according the dietary parameters I have developed for myself over time.
Never forget: 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams.
More to come…..