Eat Healthy: No Label Required


Fresh FruitWhen it comes to processed foods, the old question "What's in a name?" should probably be revised to "What's in a label?" In many cases, the answer should be something along the lines of "Don't believe everything you read." Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does have some very specific requirements for things like fats, sugars and added salt, many labels contain buzzwords designed to make you think the product is healthy.

The term "natural" on a label means little to nothing when it comes to food labels and your health. A natural product may contain pesticide or herbicide residues, genetically modified foods or other ingredients, additional sugars and salt or high fructose corn syrup - none of which do your health any good. Natural simply means the food doesn't contain synthetic or artificial ingredients like artificial flavors or colors.

When a label says a product is "healthy," it means that amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium must meet certain limitations. A healthy processed food may also be required to contain specific minimum amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, these so-called healthy foods can still contain artificial ingredients and preservatives, large amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and be made from foods doused with herbicides and pesticides.

Although calorie counts and serving sizes do give you specific numerical information, even these can be misleading. The FDA allows a margin of error of 20 percent in calories, which means a 500-calorie meal from processed foods might actually contain up to 100 calories more. Labels may also indicate servings sizes that are half of what most people would consider a "normal" serving. This is deceptive not only from the point of view of how much a product will feed, but means the cost per serving can be artificially lowered.

In the long run, you're going to be much better off to select real rather than processed foods if you're trying to lose weight. Real foods cost less per serving because you're not paying for the processing. They really are healthy and natural, and you determine serving size. Most can be prepared just as quickly as processed foods and you have more flexibility in meal planning because real foods are so versatile. Not to mention that your shopping trip will go faster if you don't have to read all those pesky labels!

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