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Unlocking secret to shedding pounds: Reading food labels

Ashley Lucas

In the quest for a healthier lifestyle and achieving weight loss goals, one often overlooked but crucial tool is right at our fingertips: the food label. We see them on nearly every packaged product in the grocery store, but do we really take the time to understand what they’re telling us? Understanding the information presented on food labels can make a significant difference in our efforts to drop those extra pounds.

The key to deciphering a food label lies in understanding the order in which ingredients are listed. This order isn’t arbitrary; it reflects the quantity of each ingredient in the product. The ingredient with the highest quantity comes first, followed by the others in descending order. So, if you’re looking to make healthier choices and shed some weight, it’s essential to pay close attention to these lists.

One of the most crucial elements to keep an eye out for is sugar. Sugar can go by many names on food labels, and it’s often disguised under terms like sucrose, fructose, glucose and more. But one common thread among these names is that they typically end in “-ose.” The sneaky thing about sugar is that it adds empty calories to your diet without providing essential nutrients. High sugar intake can lead to weight gain and various health issues like diabetes and heart disease.

To make matters even more complicated, sugar can appear multiple times in the ingredient list under different names. This is a tactic sometimes used by food manufacturers to make it appear as though sugar is not the primary ingredient. By breaking down the sugar into different types (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, maltose or dextrose), it can appear lower on the ingredient list, giving the illusion of a healthier product. However, in reality, these different forms of sugar are essentially the same, so be vigilant and keep an eye out for all these -ose endings.

Another essential tip for effective label reading is to remember that less is often more. A shorter ingredient list typically signifies a product with fewer additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Foods with lengthy ingredient lists often contain hidden calories and potentially harmful chemicals. Opting for products with simpler, more natural ingredient lists can help you make healthier choices that support your weight-loss goals.

One group of ingredients to be especially wary of is nitrates. Nitrates are commonly found in processed meats like bacon, sausage and deli meats. They are used as preservatives to extend the shelf life of these products and give them their characteristic pink color. While nitrates themselves are not directly responsible for weight gain, they can have detrimental effects on your health.

Nitrates can convert into harmful compounds called nitrosamines when exposed to high heat, such as during cooking. Nitrosamines have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other health issues. Additionally, processed meats that contain nitrates are often high in salt, which can lead to water retention and bloating, making you feel heavier than you actually are.

To drop weight effectively, it’s wise to limit your intake of processed meats containing nitrates and opt for leaner sources of protein. Fresh poultry, fish and tofu are excellent alternatives that can support your weight-loss journey without the added health risks associated with nitrates.

Understanding how to read food labels is a powerful tool in your arsenal for achieving your weight-loss goals. Start by checking the order of ingredients, with the highest amount listed first, and be vigilant about spotting hidden sugars, especially those ending in -ose. Remember that less is often more, so choose products with shorter ingredient lists that are less likely to contain additives and artificial ingredients. Finally, be cautious about nitrates in processed meats, as they can have adverse health effects and hinder your weight loss progress.

Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed choices at the grocery store and select foods that support your journey toward a healthier, slimmer you. Your body will thank you, and your weight-loss goals will be within reach as you embark on this path to a healthier lifestyle.

Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.