Tips for Decoding Food Labels

Shot of a beautiful woman in a store looking carefully at a packet of coffee beans

One of the most difficult parts of transitioning over to the Paleo diet is figuring out exactly what you can and cannot eat. For many people, it feels as if modern food labels are written in a different language with unusual scientific names and ingredients hidden behind proprietary blends. Here are just a few tips that will allow you to decode these labels on your journey toward a healthier lifestyle.

Ingredient Lists Should Be Short

A short ingredient list does not necessarily mean that the food will be healthy or even Paleo, but it will reduce your risk of consuming unnecessary preservatives and chemicals. Unless your meal is from a delivery service that specializes in Paleo meals, any foods with more than four or five ingredients most likely contains some form of processed sugar, soy, or a grain byproduct.

Avoid Ingredients You Don’t Recognize

No one should feel as if they must spend their life studying nutrition in order to eat Paleo, but you will need to spend some time doing research on common ingredients. Enriched wheat, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, MSG, processed sugar, and soy should be avoided at all costs. If you are ever in doubt, then skip the item until you can do some more research.

Ignore Fat Content and Calories (Within Reason)

Another common mistake when switching over to the Paleo diet is focusing on fat content and the total calories. Most people will be glad to hear that these two numbers on the food label have very little to do with Paleo eating. As long as the calories stay within reason and you are only consuming monounsaturated fat, then you should be fine.

What About Organic?

Many of the labels that are used to describe food are completely unregulated, or have nothing to do with the nutritional content. Organic foods cannot contain pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified material, but this label does not affect their nutritional value. Other phrases such as ‘pesticide-free’ and ‘cage-free’ are not regulated whatsoever, and can be used by any company.


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