As a woman goes through menopause, her hormones change in a big way. This can cause a number of symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain.
Some foods can worsen these symptoms, even though menopause is normal. Even if you’re health-conscious, some food manufacturers can trick you into buying unhealthy, processed products. Thus, knowing what’s in food and drinks helps us make healthy choices.
When we eat healthy foods, we can maintain our hormonal balance and well-being. So, we need to know how to decode food labels so we can find out if there are any harmful or unpleasant ingredients in the food.
Today, we’ll look at food labels’ numbers and codes to identify potentially harmful ingredients. This will help us spot these additives, even if they’re labeled differently.
How to Decode Food Labels
Eating only packaged foods can make it harder to eat healthy. However, if you understand the nutrition facts label, you can make informed choices and navigate packaged foods. This label shows serving sizes, calories, nutrients, and ingredients.
You can evaluate the food’s health by understanding these details. Here are some tips and examples to help you understand how to decode food labels.
You can make healthier food choices by learning about packaged food ingredients and health risks.
Many processed foods and beverages contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame (E951), saccharin (E954), and sucralose (E955). These additives may worsen menopausal symptoms by disrupting hormonal balance.
For example, let’s take a look at a sample food label for a diet soda:
Sample Food Label: Diet Cola
Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color (E150d), Aspartame (E951), Phosphoric Acid (E338), Potassium Benzoate (E212), Natural Flavors, Citric Acid (E330), Caffeine, Acesulfame Potassium (E950)
In this sample food label, we can see that the diet cola contains aspartame (E951), one of the artificial sweeteners to watch out for.
Trans fats, commonly listed as “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredient list, can interfere with estrogen metabolism and contribute to hormone imbalances.
Let’s examine a sample food label for packaged cookies:
Sample Food Label: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Salt, Artificial Flavor
On this sample food label, we can identify partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, indicating the presence of trans fats.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is found in many products and has the code 42 on food labels, is a sweetener that has been highly processed. It can cause you to gain weight and mess up your hormones.
Let us analyze a sample food label for a fruit-flavored drink:
Sample Food Label: Fruit Punch Drink
Ingredients: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Citric Acid (E330), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate (E211), Red 40 (E129), Blue 1 (E133)
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), denoted by its code 42, is a listed ingredient on this sample food label.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG, which has the code 621, is a flavor enhancer that is often added to processed and snack foods. It may trigger or intensify menopausal symptoms.
Let us look at a packaged soup’s label as an example:
Sample Food Label: Chicken Noodle Soup
Ingredients: Chicken Broth, Cooked Chicken Meat, Carrots, Enriched
Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Celery, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (E621), Salt, Modified Corn Starch, Chicken Fat, Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids, Yeast Extract, Onion Powder, Dehydrated Parsley, Disodium Inosinate (E631), Disodium Guanylate (E627), Turmeric (for color), Spice Extracts
On this sample food label, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is listed as an ingredient. Its code, 621, tells us what it is.
Sodium Nitrites and Nitrates
Sodium nitrites (code 250) and nitrates (code 251) are often put in processed meats to make them look better and keep them from going bad. These additives can cause inflammation and mess with your hormones.
Let us examine a sample food label for deli ham:
Sample Food Label: Deli Ham
Ingredients: Ham, Water, Salt, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates (E339), Sodium Erythorbate (E316), Sodium Nitrite (E250)
The code 250 for sodium nitrite (E250) on this sample food label indicates that it is a listed ingredient.
Foods and beverages that have undergone processing frequently contain artificial colors, which are identifiable by various codes. These colors may upset the balance of hormones in the body.
Let us look at how you can decode food labels for a breakfast cereal:
Sample Food Label: Fruity O’s Cereal
Ingredients: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Corn Meal, Modified Corn Starch, Artificial Flavor, Red 40 (E129), Blue 1 (E133), Yellow 6 (E110), Yellow 5 (E102), BHT (Preservative)
On this sample food label, we can see that Red 40 (E129), Blue 1 (E133), Yellow 6 (E110), and Yellow 5 (E102) are all artificial colors.
Many processed foods last longer by adding artificial preservatives, which have different codes.
Let us look at a packaged bread food label as an example:
Sample Food Label: White Bread
Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Soybean Oil. It has 2% or less of the following: Salt, Calcium Propionate (E282), Sorbic Acid (E200), Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin, datem, and Citric Acid (E330)
In this example of a food label, we can see that Calcium Propionate (E282) and Sorbic Acid (E200) are both artificial preservatives.
How to Understand Percent Daily Value (% DV) On Nutritional Facts Label
The percentage of the daily value (% DV) found on food labels is a crucial piece of information for making healthy food choices. When you understand (% DV), you can easily decode food labels.
Check the nutrition label to see if the ingredient is present. Nutritional staples include unsaturated fat, total fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Take into account the label’s recommended serving size. You can calculate the % DV with this serving size. To calculate nutrient intake, you must compare this serving size to what you eat.
The % DV indicates how much of the recommended daily intake of that nutrient one serving provides. It is usually based on a diet of 2,000 calories, but different people may need more or less calories. The % DV can range from 0% to 100% or higher.
The regulatory authorities decide on the reference values that are used in % DV. For example, a % DV of 5% or less is low, while a % DV of 20% or more is high. These values can be used as general guidelines to figure out how many nutrients a food has.
Think about your individual dietary needs, your health goals, and any restrictions or requirements you may have. Use the % DV to figure out how different foods are made up of nutrients and choose foods that meet your own nutritional needs.
% DV can help you compare products that have the same kind of nutrients.
For instance, if you are deciding between two brands of cereal, you can see which one has a higher or lower % DV of fiber or other nutrients you are interested in.
Remember that the % DV is based on a general reference diet, and that each person may have different nutrient needs.
The Most Deceptive “Claims” On Food Labels
When it comes to packaged food, it’s important to be aware of potentially misleading claims that can misguide consumers. You can easily decode food labels by avoiding foods with these claims.
Here are some of the most common misleading claims found on packaged food:
“All-natural” or “Natural”
The word “natural” is not well-defined, so different companies can have different ideas about what it means. It does not mean that the food is healthy or does not have any added ingredients. Checking the list of ingredients will help you understand better.
“Low-fat” or “Fat-free”
Even though these claims might sound good, low-fat or fat-free foods can still have a lot of sugar or other unhealthy ingredients. Consider the overall nutritional value and list of ingredients to make a good choice.
“Sugar-free” or “No added sugar”
These claims are deceptive because the product may still have natural sugars or artificial sweeteners that could affect your health in other ways. Check the list of ingredients to see if there are any hidden sugars or sweeteners.
“Made with whole grains”
This claim is misleading if the product is mostly made of refined grains and only has a small amount of whole grains. Look for products that list whole grains as the first ingredient or choose products that have been certified as being made with whole grains.
“Light” or “Lite”
These words can mean different things, like color, texture, or taste, and may not always mean that a food has fewer calories. Always check the nutrition facts panel to see if the product meets your dietary needs.
The organic label makes sure that certain farming practices are used, but it does not mean that the food is better for you. Even if a product is organic, it can still have a lot of sugar, bad fats, or calories. Check the overall nutritional value and the list of ingredients.
People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to buy products that do not contain gluten. But being gluten-free does not mean that a product is automatically healthy. It can still have a lot of sugar, bad fats, or ingredients that have been processed. Carefully read the nutrition facts.
Remember that marketing claims on packaged food are meant to attract consumers and may not reflect the product’s true healthiness.
Instead of relying on packaging claims, read the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list to make informed choices.
READ ALSO: 20 Foods to Eat (or Avoid) During Menopause
Tips To Make Food Labels Work For You
Pay attention to serving sizes
On a food label, the serving size is the most important piece of information because everything else is based on it. You should know that many packages have more than one serving.
Let us look at a popular brand of cereal, “ABC Crunchy Flakes.” On the food label, it says that 1 cup (30 grams) is one serving. Based on this serving size, the rest of the nutrition information on the label is written.
Now, let us say you usually pour yourself 2 cups (60 grams) of cereal into a bowl. In this case, you need to change the values because you are eating twice as much as a single serving.
If the label says there are 100 calories per 1 cup serving, and you eat 2 cups, you will actually eat 200 calories just from the cereal.
It is important to pay attention to serving sizes so you can figure out how healthy the food you are eating is.
Assess the types of fat
When looking at the types of fat on food labels, pay attention to saturated fat and trans fat.
Saturated fat, which comes from animal products and some plants, increases the chance of getting heart disease. Less than 13 grams per day is the most you should eat.
The process of hydrogenation makes trans fat, which raises the level of bad cholesterol and should be avoided. Look for foods with low amounts of saturated fat and no trans fat.
Choose foods with healthier fats, like the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
If the ingredients list says “partially hydrogenated oil,” do not buy it. Focus on healthier fats to help your heart.
Consider sodium content
When looking at food labels for sodium content, it is important to watch how much salt you eat. Compare the sodium content of a food item to the number of calories it contains per serving to control your salt intake.
Sodium levels per serving should be less than or equal to the number of calories. Try to keep the sodium content of a food to no more than 250 mg per serving, for instance, if it has 250 calories total.
Try to find substitutes that have less sodium in them. Alternatives to the food you are thinking about eating may be available. You can control your sodium intake and improve your health by choosing one of these alternatives.
Talk to a doctor for specific advice if you need to cut back significantly on salt because of health problems or dietary restrictions. It is possible that they will give you advice tailored to your unique situation.
Evaluate fiber content
It is recommended that you look for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving when reading food labels: Try to find foods with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Getting enough fiber is important for keeping your digestive system and overall health in good shape.
If the fiber content is not written on the label, you can figure it out by looking at how much fiber there is compared to how much carbohydrate there is. Try to eat foods that have at least 1 gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrates.
Choose high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Not only do these foods give you fiber, but they also give you other important nutrients.
Watch out for added sugars
Check the list of ingredients to see if a food has any added sugars. Look for foods where the first three ingredients do not include added sugars.
Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing weight, so if sugar or one of its other names is near the top of the list, it means there is more sugar added.
Pay attention to the different names for sugar that are used on food labels. These include sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, corn sugar, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, and glucose. If these are among the first few ingredients, the product probably has a lot of added sugar.
Sugar consumption replaces healthy foods with empty calories and raises blood sugar levels. Choose whole, unprocessed foods like fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.
You can easily read and decode food labels to avoid harmful additives. Women over 50 can easily spot menopausal-worsening additives on food labels by learning their numbers and codes.
During this stage, eating whole, unprocessed foods and cooking at home with fresh ingredients is smart.
The FDA regulates some terms and descriptions on food labels, but not all of them. Always check the nutrition label to make sure the food fits with your goals for healthy eating. Visit the FDA website (US), Food Safety Authority (EU), Food Standards Agency (UK) or the Food Safety Association (NZ & AU) if you are unsure about an ingredient or how to decode food labels.
Avoid “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “unbleached,” “enriched,” and “multigrain” grain-based products, which may contain refined flours. The first ingredient should be 100% whole wheat, rye, corn, or another whole grain to ensure the product contains only whole grains.
Cook from scratch to have control over the ingredients, and keep your meals simple.