Understanding the Ingredients List: 3 Things We Look For, and 3 Things We Avoid
By Melissa Fine, GoodnessMe Nutritionist & Product Advisor
Don’t be fooled by all those claims on the front of the food label. Flip the product over for the WHOLE truth, starting with the ingredients list. Here are three things we like to see on the ingredients list - and three things we’d rather not.
3 Things We Look For On the Ingredients List
1. A Short & Sweet Number of Ingredients
More often than not, the product with the shorter and simpler ingredients list will be the one with MORE nutritional value, and LESS stuff we don't need more of - like sugar, vegetable oil, and weird additives we wouldn't keep in our pantries.
One look at each of these snack’s ingredients lists and it's obvious that MunchMe’s is the better-for-you option.
2. Wholefoods Listed First
Ingredients have to be listed in descending order, meaning that the ingredients listed first will make up the bulk of the product. We say NO to products with large quantities of refined sugar, refined flour, vegetable oil, or highly processed ingredients we wouldn’t keep at home; if any of those ingredients are listed first in a product, we’ll put it back on the shelf and find an alternative based on wholefoods instead, like we have here:
Tasti’s Super Food snacks for the win.
3. Ingredients We'd Keep in Our Fridge & Pantry
The more unfamiliar ingredients a product has listed, the more processed it probably is. Foreign-sounding ingredients - and lots of numbers - are red flags for synthetic additives. If the product you’re looking at is full of these, see if you can find an alternative made entirely (or mostly) with REAL FOOD ingredients you recognise and that you’d purchase individually, like we have here:
You’ll find nothing but real ingredients in Pure Harvest’s Organic Soy Milk.
And 3 Things We’d Rather Not See On the Ingredients List
Short for ‘Monosodium Glutamate’, MSG comes from L-glutamine, an amino acid (a building block of protein). We don’t mind naturally occurring MSG (found in foods like hard cheeses, mushrooms, and tomatoes). But we do mind MSG when it’s isolated and added to certain processed foods to enhance their flavour so that we eat MORE.
Other names for MSG to look out for on the ingredients list: Flavour Enhancer, Monosodium Glutamate, code numbers 620-635. You’ll often find MSG in foods like flavoured chips and crackers, instant noodles, processed meats (salami, sausages, etc), and ready-made stir-fry sauces and soups, like that one on your left:
There are plenty of wholefood alternatives to your favourite savoury foods that are flavoured with real ingredients instead of isolated MSG, like this one from Hart & Soul on your right.
Although this white starchy powder comes from plants, it's a super processed ingredient that's added to foods to give them a little something that they're missing. While we might let it slide if maltodextrin is listed at the tail-end of the ingredients list, if it’s listed as the first ingredient like it is in that soup on your left below, we say no thank you.
We’ll have a Hart & Soul soup instead, thanks.
3. Sneaky Sugars
In 2015, the World Health Organisation revised their sugar intake guidelines, recommending that added or ‘free sugars’ account for just 5% of our daily energy intake - that’s about 25g or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This can prove challenging when free sugars are snuck into countless foods, under the guise of one of the 56 other names for sugar, including:
- Agave Syrup
- Apple/Fruit/Grape/Pear Juice Concentrate
- Cane Sugar
- Caster Sugar
- Corn Syrup/High Fructose Corn Syrup (a fructose bomb)
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- Fructose (the worst kind)
- Glucose Syrup
- Golden Syrup
- Icing Sugar
- Invert Sugar
Here are some packaged foods containing sneaky sugars, and some no-added-sugar alternatives you can swap them with:
Proper Crisps give you your chip fix without the sugar and weird additives.
Sugar just isn’t necessary in soy milk. Soybeans provide enough natural sweetness in Pure Harvest’s NOM Nut Bliss.
Skip the sucrose and swig back Nexba’s Strawberry Peach Kefir instead; it’s sweetened with erythritol, a plant-derived sugar substitute.
Find the products mentioned here that we’ve switched to in this month’s GoodnessMe Box, and on the GoodnessMe Shop!