Updated: Nov 11, 2020
When we go for the foods that have labels, it is so important to read the label. When we don't read the label, we're trusting the company unknowingly. Companies are out to make money. They thrive on those who are trying to become healthier, so they put large words on the front of the label hoping we won’t read the back. We must start reading the back and compare products. We must learn what it all means. If we can’t pronounce it, chances are our bodies can’t process it. When we aren’t sure, we must look it up or ask someone we trust who is knowledgeable in this area.
When you go to the grocery store, do you look at the foods you buy? Do you learn about them? Or do you just take them for what they are? Do you look at what it says in big letters on the front of the package? When it comes to foods without packaging, do you look them up to see how they are helping you? If it comes without a package, it is most likely fresh. But is it good for you? How do you know? Do you research? Do you find a reputable source?
For years, I went with what I “thought” to be correct. This went with everything: if I doctor told me to take a certain medication, I didn’t read into it and find out what it could potentially do to me. When I cleaned (as the daughter of someone who did this for a living), I never paid attention to what I was using or what I was breathing. I didn’t think about the small print. This was also the case with food. I ate food, but I didn’t pay attention to what it really was I was eating. When it came to foods without packaging, I figured it was healthy. I had an Exercise and Sports Science background, but that never taught me how to read labels. Being in higher education did, however, teach me one thing I would eventually begin using more and more, to the point where I could begin trusting myself and not relying on what others were telling me - Research.
Growing up, I liked to read, but I never really liked having to research. As a young kid in college, I just wanted to play basketball. I wasn’t thinking about how what i was surrounding myself with or putting into my body was affecting me. Even in my early days in the military, I wasn’t really worried about what I was doing. I worked on the flight line, I was surrounded by toxic chemicals at work, I touched toxic chemicals everyday. I got dirty. I had to eat on the run a lot. I was given prescriptions I couldn’t even pronounce to help me with pain management. What was all this really doing though?
in February 2007, I found out my mom, who was living in Jacksonville, Florida at the time, had contracted a deadly virus known as HIV. At that time, I was in England. I had just got married the end of 2005 and was finally learning how to be together with my husband (we were separated by orders our first year of marriage). My mom had been battled the effects of Multiple Sclerosis up to this point. She was diagnosed with that in 2003. This was something different though. Her immune system and body were already compromised and on the verge of shutting down. Now there was this.
I was able to move closer to her that same year. For the next two years, I took care of her. I would make four-hour round trips after working all night to take her to doctor appointments. She would barely eat, so I made sure she had groceries. She was depressed, on hyperthyroid medication, and taking over twenty different meds. I remember looking in her cabinets and having to clean them out every now and then.
In 2009, I began to realize I was missing something with her. I began doing research and learning about different medications. I began to do the small print. Up to that point, I can’t say I liked to research. I had to write a lot of papers for my bachelor’s degree, but that didn’t mean I “liked” it. What I realized, though, is it just never was a topic of interest. Until, that is, I began to study nutrition and cleansers and medications - all of which, if we aren’t paying attention, can be more harmful than good to us in the long run.
My mom passed in 2009 and I had my daughter soon after. I then left for physician assistant school. This is when I began to be interested in everything I researched. I was researching how nutrition affected plaque buildup in the brain - a sign of oncoming dementia and a sign the doctors used to diagnose my mom with MS. I began to read labels. I began to become interested in what they meant. Taking biochemistry was enlightening because it taught me how all these things I was reading on the labels affected the body.
While I am aware most people don’t have the same inclination to read labels as I now do, I wanted to share why we need to be reading and digging more. The products we buy can say what they want to get your attention. However, if they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, they have to list on the product label what is in the product. If you don’t know what these items are, you may still purchase them, even if they are more harmful than good. I hope this piece will make you want to begin to start reading labels…all of them. Not just food, but learn about medications you’re prescribed and how they can interfere with one another (something doctors don’t always tell us). Go into your cabinets. Learn about the products you clean with on a daily basis. What toxins are in them? Are they safe for you and your family? When you go out to buy food, know what you are buying.
Learning about product and nutrition labels can be a daunting task. However, the Food and Drug Administration breaks down the label for you on their webpage, https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label. I highly suggest using this resource to help you learn more about what you are putting into your body. There are certain things food products must have on their labels. This includes serving size, calories, nutrients, and a quick guide to percent daily value (%DV).
When I teach people about measuring their foods, the reason we need to learn how to get into the habit of it is because most boxed foods don’t come with a measuring cup or scale, right? So if I buy something at the store that says, “serving size 128g (grams),” how do I know how much that is? I don’t have a calibrated scale in my hand, I know that. Sometimes, the serving size with say how many pieces you can have. That makes it easier. However, when it comes to measuring, it’s important to know how to measure. So, the first thing I tell people is to buy a food scale. This allows you to actually “learn” how much you are eating. I have so many people tell me they “eat healthy.” Then, they track their foods and they really aren’t doing their body as good as they thought. This is because they weren’t tracking anything. They were guessing.
When it comes to solving problems, do you prefer to guess or do you think it would be better to find the answer? Nutrition and products you use on a daily basis should be no different. You may “think” you are eating healthy because someone “told” you it was healthy. However, how do YOU know? Did you track it? Did you learn about it? Did you research it? Did you hire someone to research it for you? Think about it.
Here is something else to be aware of - the difference between added and total sugars. The FDA website explains this as well. According to the site, “total sugars…includes sugars naturally present in many nutritious foods and beverages, such as sugar in milk and fruit as well as any added sugars that may be present in the product…added sugars are added during the processing of the foods.” It is important to note that “diets high in calories from added sugars can make it difficult to meet daily recommended levels of important nutrients while staying within calorie limits.” It is also important to note that “no daily reference value has been established for total sugars because no recommendation has been made for the total amount to eat in a day (https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label).
Another important thing to note when it comes to sugars: when a product says “sugar-free,” that does NOT mean it is the best option for you. This is something I go over when I coach people on this subject. Sugar-free could be more harmful than natural sugars. Again, this is why it is so important to read the label. A good article to read on this subject was originally published by Harvard Health Publishing in 2012, “Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030).
When it comes to what you put in your body or what you breathe in everyday, it is important to take some time to know more. Yes, it can be time consuming. However, what is your health worth to you? Is a few minutes to learn not valuable enough to prevent a lifetime of possible sickness and disease?
My life brought me to wanting to begin researching more. I watched too many people around me get sick and die from preventable diseases. This propelled me to want to learn more so that I could help myself and my family. I want to be around as long as possible if possible. I will never say I can prevent everything. There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to dementia and other diseases. However, I make it a priority to learn more so that I can try to do what I can and be here for my family. This is not the norm. This was not who I was even just ten years ago. Nevertheless, knowing what I know now, I just pray more people will take a look at products and foods and realize there are sometimes better options. When it comes to food, using an app such as My Fitness Pal can save you from having to guess. It can help you get total, internal and external, results. It can help you live a healthier lifestyle. What is that worth to you?
I truly hope this article helps you the next time you go to the store. I lived most of my life in the darkness. Even when I learned everything I needed to know about food sources, I still wasn’t paying attention to cleaning supplies until recently. There is so much out there we don’t know. The companies don’t want us to know. The pharmaceutical companies don’t want us to know. So how do we learn? We pick the brain of those who have already done the work and we do our own research. This is how we begin to change the vicious cycle. This is how we begin to raise healthier generations coming up behind us. We support the companies that care and ditch those who are just trying to make a buck off our ignorance. We dig. We make it a priority. We live.
Thank you for your time in reading this and I look forward to your comments. If you have any questions or want to know more about how to track your foods, learn what to eat/what to stay away from, and how to rid your home of harmful toxins, I pray you will reach out to me. This has become my life mission - to help others learn how to be healthier all-around. It’s not just about outside appearance. It’s also important to know what we are doing to the inside of our bodies. This is the part that can kill us if we aren’t paying attention.