When it comes to reading nutritional labels, most of us quit reading after the calorie count. Some of us will venture further down to the sugar, sodium, and fat quantities, but the ingredient list often gets ignored. That’s a mistake, though, because understanding what goes into your food can help you make healthy decisions!
Why Ingredients Are Important
Many people think that calories matter more than anything else, but two foods with similar calorie counts and different ingredients can have completely different effects on your body.
Protein, for example, is used by your body to build and repair tissues and make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. It’s also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, provide the energy your body needs and play a vital role in digestion and the metabolism of protein and fat. They’re both important parts of a healthy diet, but they play different roles in your body.
The same goes for almost any ingredient, whether it’s healthy or unhealthy. Eating a meal with ingredients that include protein, fiber, and healthy fats will keep your appetite satisfied longer than eating something packed with simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates will give you more sustainable energy than simple carbohydrates will. Eating an apple offers more nutritional value than drinking a glass of processed, sugary apple juice. By taking a few minutes to look through an ingredient list, you can have a better understanding of what your food is going to do for your body.
Things to Look Out For
While the ingredients that you’re going to want to avoid will depend on your lifestyle and your personal preferences, here are a couple of things that you should at least be aware of when it comes to your food!
- Sugar: Sugar isn’t all bad—it’s naturally-occurring in fruits and milk, for example—but added sugar can have some pretty serious effects on your health. It’s been linked to a lot of health issues, from increased risk of cardiovascular disease to obesity. It’s fairly common in processed foods, especially ones that are marked as “fat-free” or “reduced fat,” but it’s not always easy to spot in ingredient lists because it’s under different names. Look for ingredients ending in the suffix –ose (glucose, fructose, etc.), because sugars are often listed that way. And, of course, check the nutritional facts to see how many grams of sugar your food contains.
- Sodium: Like sugar, sodium isn’t inherently bad. In fact, your body needs sodium for normal nerve and muscle function and to maintain your blood pressure. It’s the amount that you eat that you should pay attention to. The Dietary Guidelines for sodium consumption is less than 2,300 mg per day, but the average American consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium each day. According to the American Heart Association, excess sodium consumption can increase your risk for stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and other serious health issues. Read the nutritional label carefully to see how much sodium is in your food, and try to keep your total intake down!
We hope that this article has helped you learn a little bit about why ingredients are important. For more tips for transforming your life, subscribe to the blog and check out our Facebook page!