Health Hack: Top Tips for Reading Food Labels for Gut Health
Scanning the aisle of your grocery store for a healthy sweet treat that tastes (and feels) good can be tricky. Often, highly processed so-called “healthy” desserts are made with chemical alternatives, natural flavors, bad oils, and sugar alcohols. Yet, the packaging is misleading with brands throwing around health claims like IBS friendly, sugar-free, or gluten-free to convince consumers that their products are nutritious. Just because these labels sound healthy, it doesn’t mean these foods necessarily offer any real nutritional value.
Don’t be fooled by bold, misleading health claims. Today, many pre-packaged snacks are inaccurately labeled. According to a 2013 report, the carbohydrate content of commonly eaten snacks in the U.S. were found to be measurably higher than indicated by the label. If you’re determined to become a more mindful eater, this post was made for you.
Get ready to throw on your thinking hat and turn the label with dalci. In this post, we’ll be revealing our top label reading skills to help you add delicious pre-packaged snacks to your cart that are better for your gut, and made from real ingredients.
Tip #1: Pay Attention to the Ingredients
When reading the ingredients list, it’s important to be mindful of the order in which the ingredients are listed. The first few ingredients noted on the package tend to make up most of what you’re eating. The dalci team chooses to avoid snacking on foods where the first few ingredients listed are some type of sugar alcohol, hydrogenated oil, refined flour, or gum additive.
What gut-friendly ingredients should you keep an eye out for? Opt for snacks that replace refined flours with gluten-free options like almond flour, teff flour, or millet flour. Almond flour is our favorite substitute for gluten-free baking because it’s packed with minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. As a low GI food, it’s slowly digested and absorbed, meaning it’s the perfect alternative flour for keeping your blood sugar in check.
We also choose to snack on foods that steer clear of inflammatory hydrogenated oils like margarine or vegetable oils like canola oil. We love to store our kitchen cupboards with gut-friendly snacks that use avocado oil instead. A healthy source of fat, avocado oil is a nutritious addition to your diet that when paired with veggies may help your body absorb key nutrients like vitamin A (beta-carotene).
Tip #2: Don't Be Fooled by the Serving Size
It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming that the number of calories and nutrients listed on a package refers to the amount in a single serving. Unfortunately, some brands often attempt to trick consumers into thinking the snacks they’re eating contain fewer calories and grams of fat, cholesterol, sugar, and carbs.
In reality, one serving can look like half a cookie or one ounce of chips. If you’re like us, once you get your hands on an addictive salty or sweet snack, it’s easy to keep munching along. That’s why we recommend paying attention to the nutrition facts while keeping your portions in check by assessing the serving size before you start snacking.
Tip #3: Avoid Misleading Health Claims
When you come across a new packaged “healthy” snack that boasts about its endless nutritional benefits, it can be easy to overlook the label and fall for its misleading claims. Here is a list of a few of the most common food claims found on packaged snacks and what they mean:
Low-carb: Carbs are not the enemy. Eating gut-irritating carbs in excess like packaged foods made from refined flour may not be the best option, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid healthy carbohydrate sources like sweet potatoes or whole fruits. Just because a processed snack like a protein bar contains fewer carbs than a banana, it does not mean it’s the healthier option.
- Gluten-free: If you’re intolerant to or sensitive to gluten, it’s beneficial to reduce your consumption of pre-packaged snacks made from refined flours and grains. But, keep in mind that processed foods labeled “gluten-free” are often filled with other gut irritants like soy, dairy, or inflammatory oils.
- Natural: According to the FDA, the label “natural” denotes “that nothing artificial or synthetic…has been included in [a food].” So what’s the issue with the label? Unfortunately, the FDA has not set any guidelines for how these “natural” foods should be processed, meaning you could be exposing yourself to unhealthy additives like pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics.
- Sugar-Free: We can all agree that cutting back on refined sugars is important when it comes to supporting a healthy gut. But, just because a snack is free from refined sugars like cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup does not mean it’s gut approved. Often, “sugar-free” snacks contain sugar alcohols like xylitol that may trigger uncomfortable symptoms like bloating and gas.
Conclusion to Reading Food Labels
The next time you’re in the mood for something sweet, salty, and convenient, we recommend turning the label before you mindlessly snack. Packaging can be easily used to mislead consumers into thinking they’re opting for the healthiest option available. Next time you’re scanning the grocery aisle, we encourage you to turn the label of a new “healthy” snack that catches your eye. Check out our previous blog post for a list of our favorite nutrient-dense, convenient packaged food options that were made for healthy snacking and sippin.