Reading ingredient labels like a pro

To explain ingredient labels understand that there are certain foods in which the FDA requires all food labels to include everything that is in the packaged foods. So if you have to say a whole food like butternut squash these do not require nutritional labels or ingredient lists unless it was somehow altered like cut up into a pre-cut up package.

Ingredient labels are required to be listed in order from the most prominent ingredient (what it has the most of) to the least amount.

You know that Derreck and I both stress whole foods. Yes, sometimes that isn’t possible. Packaged cut-up foods are not bad if you are getting them fresh and the ones that are in the fresh fruit and veggies section at your local grocery store. Frozen, canned, and other packaging are for another topic at another time.

Now Built Bars, what seems like a lot of people’s (not just bariatric patients) go to the protein source. I have seen these used meal replacements, which I 100% do not agree with. So let me explain to you why.

While yes their protein is a protein blend of Whey Isolate and Partially Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate, while these can be useful in a pinch they are not a high-quality protein. They are actually more processed than the powdered isolate proteins or hydrolyzed proteins you can buy. Even though it is partially hydrolyzed it is not the same as 100% hydrolyzed. It is not going to absorb like hydrolyzed does absorb. You can get protein sources from better options. Yes, this makes it the first ingredient listed so it is the most prominent ingredient, but again you want to look for quality over quantity. The next ingredient is water, usually used to help combine ingredients and for moisture.

This brings us to our third ingredient, dark chocolate. There are different variations of dark chocolate. They will list what is in the dark chocolate in parentheses as they are required to by the FDA. If you want something that is 100% dark chocolate you want to look for dark chocolate that has chocolate liquor, cacao beans (where chocolate comes from), soy lecithin (used as an emulsifier which is for ingredients that don’t blend together well), and flavoring such as vanilla. If it adds things like kernel palm oil or milk solids, like milkfat, then these are fake dark chocolate. You can tell the difference when you look at the labels between something like this and an authentic bar of dark chocolate (which I do not currently have any in the house). Built Bars add milk fat so it pulls them away from being authentic dark chocolate.

Digestive-Resistant Maltodextrin while yes has been formed to help with digestion, you can help your own digestion by eating whole food and different types of probiotic bacteria through things like greek yogurts. These are better sources to help your digestive tract.

Glycerin is actually a form of sugar alcohol that also works to help keep moisture in the food, but it CANNOT be fully absorbed by the body. And too much of this can lead to gas or diarrhea or an upset stomach.

Erythritol is another form of sugar alcohol and also how they get their low carb aspect to a Built Bar. This one can also cause digestive issues as well as diarrhea if too much is eaten. This is why it is not a good thing to use these as a meal replacement. Sugar alcohols in general can lead to more water on the intestines, which causes diarrhea, as well as headaches and nausea if they are eaten frequently.

Gelatin is used as a stabilizer and so the bars keep their shape.

As you can tell the farther down the list we get in the ingredients the less and less of each one there is. The one thing that the FDA does not require is the percentages of each ingredient that are in the food. They also don’t have to specify the type of flavorings they use like what types of natural flavors are they using.

One of the main things is you want to watch out for ingredients that you can not pronounce. It is recommended if you do go with packaged foods that you look for ones with ingredient lists that you can pronounce as well as ones that don’t have a lot of ingredients.

An example of something that Derreck and I use frequently is organic tofu. This specific tofu is the extra firm version.

As you can see water is the first ingredient. That is mostly because it is stored in water in the packaging if you have never used tofu before. Then the second ingredient is organic soybeans. This is what tofu comes from. This specific label does have some more in-depth information about the exact ingredients by also stating that it has less than 2% of the following ingredients: calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride. These are to help with the shape and firmness of the tofu. It helps it keep its shape when you take it out of the packaging. That’s how I am able to cut it up into chunks. Now get silken tofu which is soft tofu and they do not have as much of some of the ingredients due to the difference in texture, but different recipes call for different tofu. 90% of the recipes I use for tofu call for firm or extra firm tofu as I use them as the protein source. I do have a dessert recipe that I have posted on my page that talks about using silken tofu for a low-carb chocolate dessert.

So hopefully from this, you can see why it is important to watch the ingredient labels of the foods that you eat.

Things to remember:

1. look for minimal ingredients

1. Choose whole foods first before packaged foods unless its like pre-cut-up foods.

1. Watch out for those that claim something is healthy because sometimes some of these ingredients can cause digestive issues especially when a lot of it is consumed.

1. Remember that ingredient labels are listed in order of most prominent ingredient in the food to the least amount.

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