Beyond Nutrition Labels

The purpose of nutrition labeling is to provide basic information to help guide consumers in making healthy choices. First implemented in 1913, they provide facts that impact common health concerns such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

In order for a consumer to make the most use out of Nutrition Fact Labels, an individual needs to know their own requirement which is based on gender, age, weight, and health. Here we provide you with a quick guide as to how to read Nutrition Fact Labels properly.

However, determining whether a food is healthy for you goes far beyond the Nutrition Facts Label. It is important that we also know how to read the ingredient list. Most processed foods contain a vast number of fillers, preservatives, non-food chemicals, flavoring and colouring agents. These chemicals may be harmful for our health and are generally not advised, and consumption should be kept at a minimum.

How to Read an Ingredients Label

There is much to learn when we discuss ingredient labels, and it is often more complex than Nutrition Fact Labels due to the vast number of ingredients. The focus here is to help you identify ingredients that may be harmful to your health so you can quickly assess whether a food item should be consumed regularly, on occasion or rarely.

Organic Vs. Non-Organic

Organic products are generally regarded as being healthier as they do not have the addition of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, non-organic fertilizers, hormones during the growth of that food, and organic foods do not contain genetically modified ingredients. Only products with organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% can be labelled as organic or bear the Canadian Organic Label.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

GMO’s or genetically modified organisms refer to plants or animals created through gene splicing techniques of biotechnology, and these foods are created by merging DNA together from different species. GMOs were first approved in 1994, and many researchers, institutions, environmentalists and holistic healthcare practitioners are concerned as the effects of GMOs and their effect on the environment and health are still highly unknown. There have been preliminary research studies showing some of the dangers of GMOs on the environment and health. Unfortunately, there is currently no mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in Canada. Foods that are GMO include papaya, corn, soy, zucchini, cottonseed, canola, sugar beets, squash, and milk products. Apples, potatoes and what are all in the lineup for approval.

Ingredients to Avoid 

Artificial Sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium, sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame have been associated with worsening inflammatory bowel disease, certain artificial sweeteners also destroy gut flora, and can be toxic to the nervous system such as aspartame.

Artificial Flavors and Colours often are blends of tens to hundreds of chemical additives used to enhance the taste and visual profile of otherwise “tasteless” foods. Many of these ingredients can be genetically engineered flavor enhancers. Artificial flavors and colours have been linked to worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety, autism, ADD/ADHD and other neurological conditions. Some common artificial flavors and colours include MSG, Blue 1 and 2, Red 3, Yellow 6, Green 3.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is considered to be worse than sugar and has been linked to obesity, diabetes, liver issues, cholesterol problems, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Preservatives are used primarily to prevent fats from becoming rancid. Petroleum-based preservatives have been found to trigger behaviour and health problems including BHT (Butylated dydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone). Many of these are still found in Canadian supplements even prenatal vitamins. Other common preservatives to watch out for include nitrates and sulfites commonly found in processed meats and dried fruits and nuts. Potassium Benzoate and Sodium benzoate have been found to convert into carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances and can show up in foods such as apple cider, low-fat salad dressings, syrups, jams, olives, and pickles. There’s also Propyl Gallate found in meat, soup bases, gum. Potassium sorbate is one of the most profusely used preservatives, found in many dairy products, fresh and dried fruits, wines and has been found to be a carcinogen, and can cause reproductive problems.

Hydrogenated or Fractionated Oils is a man-made substance, and is also known as Trans fats. It has been shown to be so harmful for the body; many foods have eliminated it from their ingredients. It can cause issues with the cardiovascular, immune, hormonal and nervous systems.

Here is an alphabetical list of ingredients that are deemed unacceptable from The Whole Foods market. It is a very comprehensive list and they also have a list of unacceptable ingredients for body products.


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