How to Read Food Labels

Table of Contents

Grocery shopping can be overwhelming! Especially when product labeling is commonly misleading and confusing so we want to help you understand the common not-so-hormone-nourishing ingredients found in food products that are best to avoid.

This way you will know exactly what you are buying and feel empowered and informed to make the healthiest and most nourishing choices for your body!

Common Artificial Ingredients

Artificial ingredients come in many forms! The very best way to sidestep artificial ingredients is to eat whole foods as much as possible.

But, chances are, even if you’re already eating a (mostly) whole foods diet, some processed foods are sneaking their way in. And in that case, reading labels is invaluable.

Flavours

“Natural flavour,” “artificial flavour,” “flavour…” Have you ever seen these on labels and wondered what exactly that means? Flavour is an umbrella term for lots of different ingredients that make up that particular flavour.

So whilst a product label may list “flavour”, it often contains between 20 and 100 ingredients that our body doesn’t recognise or know how to properly break down. Companies don’t have to list every ingredient!

Mystery Flavours to Avoid

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Commonly used to enhance the flavour of snack foods, Asian groceries (e.g. sauces) and restaurant meals so that we eat MORE.

Other common names for MSG include Flavour Enhancer, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, Texturised Vegetable Protein, Yeast Extract and food additive code numbers 621-625. Avoid code numbers!

Tip: Choose certified organic foods when you can. Certified organic flavors must meet stricter standards; for example, they cannot contain synthetic ingredients and cannot be GMO. Also, cut out processed and packaged foods. Replacing them with certified organic fruits, vegetables and grains reduces your intake of flavor ingredients.

Artificial Sweeteners

Synthetic sugar replacements found in foods labeled “low calorie,” “reduced-sugar,” “light,” “no sugar added,” “diet,” “low-fat,” and “sugar-free” may seem like healthier options but the reality is that they often have harmful effects on our body.

Some artificial sweeteners to avoid are:

  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • High fructose corn syrup

Sugar Alcohols to Avoid

Isomalt, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol. Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates naturally present in some fruit and vegetables, but they can also be synthetic and used in ‘diet’ foods.

Note: some of these will be listed as numbers instead e.g E951, E420 – avoid like the plague. Also, any word that ends in “ose” indicates an added sugar.

Artificial Food Colors

Artificial food colors are chemical dyes used to color food and drinks. They’re found in many cereals, cakes, candy, bakery products, drinks, vitamins and pharmaceuticals. Colours to avoid: Common ones include Tartrazine (102), Quinoline Yellow (104), Sunset Yellow (110), Indigotine (132), Brilliant Blue (133) and Green S (142)…say what?! You’ll commonly see these in soft drinks, jellies and confectionery.

Artificial Preservatives to Avoid

Sulphur Dioxide and Sulphites (E220-E227; common in dried fruit), Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite (E249-E252; found in smoked meats and fish, this also adds flavour and colour).

How to Read Food Labels

Trans Fats

Fats are great for hormone health – as long as they are NOT in the form of vegetable oil. And although “vegetable” oil may sound healthy, its highly processed, pro-inflammatory and toxic to the body yet unfortunately found in many mass produced supermarket foods with a long shelf life. Avoid anything that lists, “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” as this means its a trans fat or trans-fatty acid that you don’t want to consume.

Avoid:

  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Cottonseed oil

Vegetable Gums

Gum additives are everywhere in our food supply today, typically used for thickening and stabilizing. Some gums are best to avoid and others are generally okay in small amounts, or are nothing to worry about.

Gums to avoid are:

  • Carrageenan, a suspected carcinogen & inflammatory to the gut and should be avoided as much as possible.
  • Polysorbate 80
  • Carboxymethyl cellulose (cellulose gum)

Vegetable gums that are okay:

  • Agar Agar (406)
  • Guar Gum (412)
  • Pectin
  • Xanthum Gum (415) (in small amounts)

Salt

Salt (Sodium) is essential in our diet. However, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure in some individuals, which increases heart disease risk.

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), we should be consuming: under 2,300mg sodium/day.

Nutrition Australia recommends ‘less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.

Adding salt to home cooked meals is fine, but opt for unrefined salts like Celtic Sea Salt or Hymilayan Pink Salt! Its processed packaged foods where salt is hidden in high amounts that you want to be wary of.

Ingredients

By law, ingredients must be listed in descending order of how much is present in the product. So, the first ingredient listed on the label is the main ingredient and the last ingredient listed is the lowest in amount.

For example, you’d think peanuts would be the first ingredient listed on peanut butter, but most of the time its vegetable oil, sugar and salt! If sugar is the first ingredient listed on a packaged food, pop it back on the shelf!

How to Read Food Labels

Summary

All in all, the best way to avoid artificial ingredients is to eat whole foods where possible, or buy packaged foods that clearly list whole food ingredients that you can both pronounce and recognise.

Eating healthy for your hormones isn’t meant to be stressful and we recognise that sometimes it may be difficult to find products made entirely from whole ingredients. However, now that you are equipped with this information you’ll be able to always choose the “better-for-you” option!

This is about having the awareness and limiting consumption rather than completely stressing yourself out by thinking you have to avoid everything all of the time and forever!

Any questions? Ask the Moonbox Team on our private Members facebook group here.