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What to avoid on ingredient labels

Last week, I walked through the grocery store with a client. She handed me the juice, oatmeal, ravioli, soup, milk and freezer items that she normally buys and asked for my feedback.

I was reminded how deceiving labels can be! For example, her family loves juice. We talked about the high sugar content and that it's something to limit as a treat. There are also many juice "products" that are not 100% juice.

So she picked up a product labeled juice "light"- it sounds better, right? When we flipped it over, it had sucralose (fake sweetener) and other artificial ingredients. The real deal is better, in small amounts.

Another 'light' juice option contained water as a way to tone down the sweetness- that's a much better way to go "light" - or mix in a little water yourself. Better yet, squeeze it yourself!

Of course, your best bet is to avoid packaged foods altogether, but that's rarely realistic for busy families today.

But once you know which items are cleaner, you can create your new normal foods and fly through the store again.

Here are the big things to look out for on ingredient labels:

Hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils: These are the man made fats, code names for trans fat, and are linked to many diseases and problems. Avoid these!

Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup: Overly processed and highly addictive sweeteners. Stick to real sugar instead, or better yet- honey and maple syrup or evaporated cane syrup. Coconut sugar is one of the lowest on the glycemic index scale.

Food Dyes: Red #40, Yellow #5 and any other "color" you see on a label is an artificial dye, linked to health issues and hyperactivity among children. In Europe, these foods come with warning labels. Here, they sneak into fruit snacks, juice, candy, icing, sprinkles, etc.

BHT, BHA: Preservatives are unnecessary and harmful. Research is mixed

as to whether these are toxic to the body or beneficial. It's better to steer clear.

Enriched flour: This sounds good, but means that white flour was used and nutrients were added to it so that it can be considered worth eating. Instead, look for products made with whole grain flour which is less processed and contains more nutrients naturally.

Sugars less than 6 grams: For cereals, granola bars and other snacks, sugar content is key. Look for products with 6 grams or less. If it contains dried fruit, the sugar content may be slightly higher due to natural sugars.

Words you can't pronounce: In some cases, these can be vitamins or safe additions, but generally the ingredient list should be relatively short and clear.

For example, tortillas should really only be made of corn or flour, oil and salt. Soups should be made of vegetables, broth and possible beans or meat. There is no reason for all the "extras" that make it into our food.

Do you read labels? Start by checking out what's in your cupboard!

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