Today we are excited to feature an article from a leading figure in integrated medicine, Bradly Jacobs MD, MPH. Enjoy his fascinating article which reveals what to look for on food labels, then see his bio below to learn more about Dr. Jacobs.
Uncover Food Label Propaganda
An essential aspect of healthy eating is understanding what’s in the food you eat. The best way to do this is to:
- Go to restaurants that list the nutritional facts and ingredients (I recommend using the Healthy Dining Finder website as a great resource!).
- Read the food labels (Nutrition Facts, and ingredient list) on the bottles, cans, packages you buy at the grocery store. This is easier said than done. It’s not just you – food labels are confusing. There is a lot of information crammed onto small food labels. But if you can learn how to read them correctly, you can make them work for you – and your waistline.
Top 8 things to look for on a food label:
1. Sugar – Whether it’s listed as High Fructose Corn Syrup, Concentrated Sugar, or any ingredient that ends in –ose, there’s sugar in what you’re eating. Try to find products with less sugar or lower it yourself.
- Drinks: Did you know there is almost as much sugar in orange juice as coca-cola? Unlike soda, you can add 1 part water to 2 parts juice, reduce the sugar by 1/3, and still have a delicious and nutritional drink!
- Desserts: When it comes to desserts, choose fruit or use a baby spoon. You’ll find yourself eating just as many bites, keeping the sensational flavor of the dessert but eating fewer additional calories.
2. Salt/sodium – Most people get their sodium from processed foods, not from using a salt shaker. Read the food label. You should aim for less than 2,500 milligrams of sodium per day which breaks down to less than 600 milligrams for main dishes. As a general rule, avoid foods where the number of milligrams of sodium is higher than the number of calories.
Read Hold the Salt
3. “Good” Fats – Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated are a healthy form of fat. Cooking with olive oil instead of butter, and eating a handful of nuts are great ways to get these ‘good fats’. Omega-3 fatty acids are a particularly healthy type of these ‘good fats’ which you can get from walnuts, soy, flax, fatty fish like salmon, as well as health bars and drinks. Try to get ½ gram of omega-3 fatty acids each day and if you have heart problems then double up to 1 gram.
Learn More Supplement Your Knowledge of Omega Fats
4. “Bad” Fats –
a. Trans Fats: Avoid trans fats whenever possible. They cause 10-times the damage to the heart as saturated fats, and have no nutritional value. Anything that says “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” on the food label means it contains Trans Fats, even when the package says "No Trans Fats". Food companies are permitted to say "No Trans Fats" if the food has less than 0.5 grams Trans Fats per serving. While that might not seem like much, most people use several servings of "Coffee-mate (non-dairy coffee creamer) each day. Although they can say "No Trans Fats", did you know that the first ingredient in the ingredient list is ‘vegetable oil containing partially hydrogenated coconut or palm kernel oil and hydrogenated palm oil’?- all Trans Fats! If you use drink 2 cups of coffee each day and put 2 packets (2 tablespoons) in each cup, you could theoretically find yourself drinking up to 2 grams of Trans Fats every day.
b. Saturated Fats: Primary sources of these fats are from animal products such as meat and dairy. As a general rule, you want to eat less than 10% of your calories from saturated fats- this equals about 27 grams of saturated fat in a 2100 calorie diet. For example, a 10 oz prime rib has 45grams, a 20 oz filet mignon has 22grams, 9 oz chicken breasts has 6 grams, , and 7 oz grilled salmon has 2g
5. Fiber – Look for products that have fiber, in general more is better. Aim to get at least 20 grams of fiber a day.
Discover A Tale of Two Fibers
6. Grains – Products list wheat products in many ways (enriched, unbleached, wheat, etc.), however, unless it says “whole wheat”, the grain in the product is a white grain and is not as good for you as whole grain.
7. Serving size – Often your idea of a serving size isn’t the same as the manufacturer’s. For example, if you drink 12 ounces of juice every morning, but the serving size is 8 ounces, then every number on the label needs to be adjusted accordingly – (multiplied by 1.5).
8. Calories – Depending on whether you are trying to maintain your weight, lose or gain weight, keep an eye on the number of calories you eat – and keep a running tally on the calories you consume in a day. Your daily calorie needs should dictate how many calories you take in over the course of a day.
If all else fails, a good rule of thumb is the shorter the ingredient list the better. The longer the list of ingredients, the greater chance of higher bad fats, salt, and sugar.
Bradly Jacobs MD, MPH is recognized as a leader in Integrative Medicine, Health and Wellness.
Dr. Jacobs is a graduate of Stanford University School of Medicine and earned his master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. He served as Founding Medical Director for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Clinical Programs at the University of California-San Francisco where he also taught as Assistant Professor. Dr. Jacobs is the author of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and was Co-Editor of the textbook: ACP Evidence-Based Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Dr. Jacobs is board-certified in internal medicine and has studied acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, and yoga. He has a private medical practice focused on integrative medicine and primary care in San Francisco and Sausalito, California. He was Senior Medical Director at Revolution Health. Dr Jacobs is Medical Director at Cavallo Point Healing Arts Center & Spa.