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Reading nutrition labels is one of the most confusing, yet most important things you can do for your health. Many of my coaching clients are often puzzled about why they are gaining weight or not feeling their best while sticking to an all-vegan diet, and the answer almost always lies in the ability to read those nutrition labels properly.

There are so many hidden food additives, oils, and sugars that can undermine your efforts at great health and weight loss in food packages. The word “vegan” on a food package is not enough to give you all the information you need about a healthfulness of a food.

In this post, you’ll learn how to read nutrition labels in just a few easy steps to avoid harmful chemicals, additives, and animal products and makes this process fun and easy too, rather than overwhelming and stressful.

 

Take the Overwhelm Out of the Plant Based Diet

If you’re struggling with the plant based diet, then you’ll love coaching with me. My coaching program is tailored to you, and gives you the information, accountability, and meal plans you need to succeed! Get in touch for a free session to see if coaching is right for you.

Why It’s Important to Read Nutrition Labels

How to Read Nutrition Labels in 5 Easy Steps Without the Confusion | Soul in the Raw

Reading nutrition labels is literally life-saving. These days, you’ll find that most foods contain a ton of preservatives, food coloring, oils, sugar, and way too much salt that are all added to foods to keep them on the shelves longer, and to give them an addictive flavor that you won’t be able to resist (=more money for the companies who make these “foods”).

These food additives can cause a multitude of diseases, from heart attacks, to diabetes to ADD, and more. The scariest part of this is that it is the corporations themselves who determine whether the food additives they use are safe, not the FDA.

This means that it is up to us, the consumers, to take charge of our own health and actually put in the time to read nutrition labels and make conclusions about whether the foods we eat will help us thrive, or barely survive.

While this process may be daunting at the start, because it involves looking at every label of the products you choose at the grocery store, I assure you that it will get much easier over time when you already have a list of your favorite healthy products that you can rely on. This blog post will make choosing that list a breeze.  

How to Read Nutrition Labels Step 1: The Produce Section

How to Read Nutrition Labels in 5 Easy Steps Without the Confusion | Soul in the Raw

As you begin your journey through the grocery store, start by heading straight to the produce aisle. This aisle includes foods that do not need a nutrition label: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. (For a full guide to vegan grocery shopping, check out this post: https://www.soulintheraw.com/vegan-grocery-list/).

These 1-ingredient foods don’t need a label, and don’t require any thought from you (forget all those food myths: these are the perfect foods for your body).

Once you’ve filled your cart with at least 70% of these foods, you are ready to opt for minimally processed foods that are meant for making the produce you just put in your cart taste even better.

How to Read Nutrition Labels Step 2: The Front of the Label

How to Read Nutrition Labels in 5 Easy Steps Without the Confusion | Soul in the Raw

As you head to the processed foods section of your grocery store, which unfortunately is now the largest section in most grocery stores, the first thing you’ll encounter is the front side of the packaged food you are considering to buy.

You may be surprised to hear that the front of the label is the most misleading section of the label. The colors, text, and images here are often created to lead you to believe that you are buying a healthy and nutritious product, when it is seldom so.

My best advice for the front of the label is simply: avoid it! Yes, you should opt for foods that are labeled “vegan”, but this will tell you very little about the healthfulness of the product you want to buy.

Instead, turn the package around, and let’s dive into what actually matters.

How to Read Nutrition Labels Step 3: The Ingredients

How to Read Nutrition Labels in 5 Easy Steps Without the Confusion | Soul in the Raw

Once you turn the package around, find the section that lists the ingredients. Sometimes this section is published in very small print, but that just means you must do a bit of extra hunting to find it.

Once you find it, read through it. Make sure there are no ingredients that you do not understand, or have never heard of. If there are – put the item back on the shelf.

If you see things like oil, sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar, molasses, agave, and even maple syrup, skip it. Also stay away from refined grains (labeled as bleached, white, enriched, or fortified), and stick to whole grains (labeled whole, cracked, stone ground, sprouted, or rolled).

I don’t recommend memorizing lists of food additives, colorings, oils, and sugars. It’s much simpler: look for ingredients you can easily recognize and pronounce, skip all oils, strange additives and preservatives, and consume only dates for sweetener. Note that the most important ingredients to consider are written at the very beginning, because this means they are present in the largest amount in the food.

How to Read Nutrition Labels Step 4: The Nutrition Facts  

How to Read Nutrition Labels in 5 Easy Steps Without the Confusion | Soul in the Raw

Next, you are going to look at the nutrition facts label. Here, make sure that carbohydrates, fats, and proteins all have a number. This means that the food is not highly processed, where one of the three macronutrients has been removed.

(Note that per the FDA, if a food has less than 5 calories per serving, the manufacturers can call it a “zero-calorie food” and leave out the real numbers; this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fat, carb, or protein free, so be judicious about that; the most important thing is to make sure the top three ingredients aren’t highly refined, as we discussed above, meaning they are all whole foods that have all 3 macronutrients intact).

Next, consider the following:

  • Fat: You’ll also want to make sure that the food is not too high in fat, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. To do this, for food labels in the USA, divide the calories from fat by the calories per serving. If the amount is less than 0.2, it’s a-ok. Outside the USA, the label will show fat in grams. So in this case, first multiply the total fat grams by 9 (since 1 gram of fat has 9 calories; you can also make it easier on yourself and multiply by 10), then divide that number by the total calories per serving.
  • Sodium: most sodium consumed in the USA comes from food packages! Thus, you want to make sure you’re not over consuming salt in this way. We do not need extra sodium at all, as fruits and vegetables have enough. To make sure your sodium consumption from food packages is not too over the top, check the milligrams of sodium per serving and make sure it is a one to one ratio or less with the calories per serving.

How to Read Nutrition Labels Step 5: Final Considerations

How to Read Nutrition Labels in 5 Easy Steps Without the Confusion | Soul in the Raw

I really love some of these tips from Rosane Oliveira at UC Davis Integrative Medicine:

  • Choose foods high in fiber, with at least 2-3 grams per serving
  • Skip foods with even the smallest amount of cholesterol
  • Make sure there is no more than 20% calories from fat, with absolutely no trans fats, cholesterol, or added oils
  • Skip any added sugar, including maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, and others; stick to dates for sweetener
  • Pick foods with less grams of sodium than the number of calories per serving
  • Opt for whole grains, and avoid weird ingredients you cannot pronounce

That’s it! If you have any questions, please let me know below!

Take the Overwhelm Out of the Plant Based Diet

If you’re struggling with the plant based diet, then you’ll love coaching with me. My coaching program is tailored to you, and gives you the information, accountability, and meal plans you need to succeed! Get in touch for a free session to see if coaching is right for you.

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Soul in the Raw is a high-raw vegan recipe + education blog. Marina creates quick, easy, and delicious high-raw vegan recipes and blogs about the health benefits of a high-raw plant-based diet. You can get more of Marina’s awesome recipes, tips, and lifestyle techniques on the free Facebook group: Raw Souls .
Reduce Mealtime Stress: Planning Delicious, Easy, Healthy Vegan Meals | Soul in the Raw

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