Decoding Nutrition Labels: Is This Paleo-Approved?
Wait a second… isn’t all the food we eat as part of our True Paleo regime supposed to be fresh? As in, no packaging?
In an ideal world, absolutely. But unless you are actually hunting and gathering your own food, chances are you’re eating or drinking some foods or beverages that have come in bottles or containers and doing at least a little bit of ingredient label reading to determine whether a product is Paleo-approved.
Some packaged food, like organic olive oil, raw nuts or spice blends, for example, are real food and all come with labels, some easier to decipher than others. So, how can you be sure you’re ingesting high quality foods that are still packaged?
That’s precisely the point of this post, and brings us to the first of my Top 5 Tips to Decode Nutritional Labels.
1. AVOID PRODUCTS WITH INGREDIENT LABELS AS LONG AS YOUR SHOPPING LIST.
Even for anyone who doesn’t happen to follow a Paleo diet regime, a good rule of thumb is to simply see how many ingredients comprise a product. A colleague of mine has a tip for his clients: Don’t eat any packaged items with more than four ingredients!
2. AVOID PRODUCTS WITH INGREDIENTS YOU CANNOT PRONOUNCE OR IDENTIFY AS FOOD.
I recall a recent podcast interview where a functional nutrition therapist summed it up nicely stating he preferred not to eat anything that “starts with an X and ends with an 80.” If you don’t know what it is, do you really want to eat it? Or, perhaps you do know what it is, yet it doesn’t ring true as something that you need to eat. For instance, a popular spice blend I’ve seen many times at Whole Foods contains salt, pepper, garlic and a few other herbs…and silicon dioxide to prevent caking. Hmmm… how about simply buying a smaller container of the spices that you’ll use up in a period of time short enough to not need a long shelf life that may induce caking in the first place?
3. DON’T ALLOW JUST THE TOTAL NUMBER OF FAT GRAMS, (OR CARBOHYDRATE GRAMS, OR NUMBER OF CALORIES) TO BE THE SINGLE DETERMINING FACTOR AS TO WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE GOING TO EAT SOMETHING.
Back in the day, I remember picking up an energy bar or pack of fat-free pretzels, looking to make sure it had less than 2 grams of fat and no more than 120 calories (how is that for arbitrary?) in order to determine whether or not it was a good snack choice. This was in the early ‘90s when we were all staying the heck away from fat, which we thought was the enemy. Yikes!
How many fats or carbohydrates or calories any food contains is an important thing to consider. But, letting the fact that an in-a-pinch Paleo-approved option, such as the AMRAP Nutrition Bars, one of the few protein bars on the market that really are Paleo, contains X number of grams of fat, in and of itself shouldn’t be the sole factor to ditch it.
4. FACTOR IN THE AMOUNT OF PACKAGING WHEN CHOOSING TO BUY, OR NOT.
One great example here is the relatively newly popular Seaweed Snax. We know sea vegetables are an essential part of Paleo living, given their rich iodine content, which we need in order to balance out the sulfur we get from the cruciferous veggies and keep our thyroid functioning normally. But, some brands go just a bit overboard with the amount of plastic used to wrap it up. Make your voice heard by reaching out to the manufacturer to explain that you love the product, but not the ramifications on the planet. Being green is totally Paleo, by the way!
5. FINALLY, EAT PACKAGED FOOD AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.
Of course, certain foods are simply going to be in a package, like the examples listed above. But if you can help it, keep it fresh as much as humanly possible. You’ll save money since you’re not paying for production and materials used in packaging and you’ll simultaneously be doing your body a favor all the while helping the environment.
Eat fresh, eat local, eat in season and eat in balance. That’s the true essence of Paleo… sounds like common sense to me!