Primal Label-Reading 101
(Part 1) - When you shop for Paleo/Primal foods, it’s pretty basic for the most part. Even if this way of eating is completely new to you, you’ll find the learning curve a small one. Yet there are a few sneaky ways that manufacturers trick us into believing ingredients are okay.
Most of what you need can be found on the perimeters of the store — the produce department, the butcher and meat departments, and the dairy section for eggs or butter from grass-fed cows.
But shopping for pantry staples can be tricky. Things can get wild when shopping for items like salsa and hot sauce, really! Here’s where you may need some de-mystifying or de-constructing. In fact, anything with a barcode needs a good once over.
Here are some of the approved pantry foods that may need a savvy eye to catch problematic ingredients or label trickery:
Approved Pantry Foods
- Shredded coconut (great as a snack or to add sweetness to dishes)
- Unsweetened coconut milk (full-fat canned), unsweetened almond milk, and flax milk (instead of dairy)
- Canned chilies
- Fish sauce (Red Boat brand is good)
- Gluten-free hot sauce
- Gluten-free mustard
- Vinegar: Red wine and apple cider varieties
- Unsweetened, sulfite-free pickles
- Unsweetened applesauce.
- Canned fish: tuna, salmon, sardines, crab or mackerel. (Vital Choice is a great brand for very clean, fresh fish) www.vitalchoice.com
- Gluten- and soy-free beef jerky
- Nuts and seeds
- Unsweetened nut butters
- Artichoke hearts
- Olives (read the label for additives; should have olives, water and salt as the only ingredients)
- Unsweetened, sulfite-free dried fruits
- Arrowroot powder (used as a thickener; substitute for conventional flour and cornstarch)
- Coconut flour (instead of conventional flour)
- Almond flour (instead of conventional flour)
- Coconut aminos (instead of soy sauce)
- Broth: Chicken, beef and vegetable
- Raw honey
- Pure maple syrup
- Dark chocolate with at least 85 percent cacao
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Tomato sauce. (Rao’s is a good brand)
- Tomatoes in a jar or a carton*
Tomato-Product Shopping Tips
Tomatoes are acidic and react with the metal in cans. The interior coating of the cans contains Bisphenol A (BPA), a nasty, estrogen-mimicking chemical that can make you sick and fat and cause infertility problems. Most of the companies within this industry have BPA issues with their cans, so buying jarred tomatoes is best. BPA-free tetra paks like Pomi or Trader Joe’s brand are safe. My favorites are jarred organic strained tomatoes and tomato paste from Bionature (www.bionaturae.com/tomatoes.html) and conventional tomatoes in tetra pak cartons by Pomi (http://pomi.us.com/home.php) or Trader Joe’s brand Italian Tomato Starter Sauce.
The Lowdown on Labels
As you can see from above, there are a few “processed” foods that are included on the primal-approved list, but generally, you want to avoid any food that has been produced in a factory. However, purchasing ingredients that have labels can’t totally be avoided and some rules need to apply.
Is it Recognizable?
There’s one easy-to-understand rule when you read labels: if you don’t recognize the ingredient as food, you shouldn’t purchase it. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but you really can’t go wrong if you follow that advice.
Even seemingly innocuous products like herbal tea, “all natural” salsas, and instant coffee can include hidden varieties of wheat, corn, soy and sugar, so you must be diligent in reading labels even on foods that seem “safe.” When reading ingredient labels, you’ll want to be on the lookout for scientific names and variations on problematic ingredients like wheat, soy, sugar and corn. You should also be on the lookout for any ingredients to which you have an allergy — and beware of any ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
Watch for 'Flavorings'
The phrases “artificial flavorings” and “natural flavorings” are used as a catchall for flavor enhancers — manufacturers are not required to disclose exactly what they are. Both of those labels can indicate wheat, gluten, corn and soy, so even if everything else in the product is primal-approved, steer clear of foods that include those ingredients on their labels.
Play the Number Game
Look at the number of ingredients on the label. Be suspect of any product with more than five to seven ingredients. A lot of ingredients means sketchy items and chemicals may have been added.
Ingredients are listed in order of rank — the highest percentage comes first.
Understanding these basics will help you to eat clean … without pulling your hair out.
Stay tuned for my next blog post: Avoiding the Booby Traps of “Sneaky” Foods
A super, user-friendly guide to get you started eating clean is my new 30-Day Reset, which takes you through all the fundamentals you need to detox your body of gluten, sugar and dairy. A full meal plan and shopping guide is included with the 30-Day Reset plan.
Keep thinking big and living bold!