THE BLOG
06/04/2014 06:43 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2014

Are You Eating in the Dark?

PA

Are you eating in the dark? Sitting at the kitchen table, lights off, fork in hand, chewing something that tastes like chicken. Your spouse told you it was chicken. It must be chicken.

This scenario sounds ludicrous. I know. However, if you are not checking the nutrition labels of the foods you're eating, then you are not too far away from the description above.

One of the first steps to effectively managing your weight and health is to know what you're eating. Not just the literal recollection of what you ate, like a slice of pizza for lunch, but what I'm referring to is the knowledge of the ingredients that make up your food. And also knowing the nutrition facts like fat and sugar content. "Once you begin the habit of checking the labels on your food, you will have more control over what you are eating and can then better monitor your calorie intake and health," according to public health professional Aimee Trudeau. This is a necessary habit for personal health management.

Without checking labels you simply do not and cannot know. You're still sitting at the dark table eating the mystery meat.

Think of it like managing your finances. How can you expect to take control of your body if you are unaware of what is being put into it? Knowledge is power, and in order to take better control of your wellbeing, you need to start checking the facts, regulating exactly what is going into your body and how much.

Glancing at the "gluten-free, low-fat, or low-calorie" health marketing labels plastered distractingly in bold letters across consumer products is not sufficient. Despite our efforts to be healthier individuals, restaurants and food marketers play a deceptive game. There are many food items that market themselves as natural but actually use pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or artificial ingredients.

NYC medical practitioner Dr. Appolon shares with us her personal testimony. She encountered an unexpected diagnosis of high blood pressure and resting heart rate in vain of her attempts to eat healthy. "I was shopping at Trader Joes," recalls Dr. Appolon. "I bought a lot of convenient, pre-made goods labeled 'healthy' and 'low calorie' not knowing it was high in sodium because of all the preservatives and so forth."

Dr. Appolon is not alone. She is one of several Americans innocently thinking they are eating healthy, meanwhile actually poisoning their bodies in the process. Aimee Trudeau emphasizes the importance of reading nutrition labels while paying particular attention to the ingredients list. "These days it's the only way to really know," says Aimee.

Consider fruit juices. Here is an area where many can easily be mislead. We associate fruit juices with fruit, see "100 percent juice" on the container, and as a result mindlessly reach for the bottle. With a certain level of confidence we overindulge thinking that it's harmless. It says 100 percent juice on the bottle so it must be healthy, right? I'm getting extra vitamins and at the very least it is still significantly better than a Coke.

Wrong.

If you were to take a moment to look at the nutrition labels of the two beverages, you would quickly see how your assumptions have led you astray. A 10-ounce bottle of Welch's 100 percent Apple Juice, with 100 percent vitamin C and no added sugar has 140 calories and 35 grams of sugar. On the other hand, the same 10-ounce of Coca Cola has just 120 calories and 32.5 grams of sugar.

I myself have been a victim of this very same mistake. One summer before the start of junior high I went to the doctor for an annual checkup. I was a little overweight but showed no obvious signs of unhealthiness. It was shocking news to my parents and I when we found out that I had extremely high blood sugar levels and was considered at risk for Type 2 diabetes. After the doctor asked a few questions about my diet it became immediately apparent. It was the juice! I was drinking about a gallon of apple juice a week. My parents and I had no idea. Again, they were happy to see me drinking "vitamin-rich" juice instead of a soda.

The simple sugars in both of these drinks are responsible for spikes in blood sugar levels and insulin release. Dr. Appolon informs us that over time this can lead to hyperglycemia, heightened insulin resistance, and the development of Type 2 diabetes. "Sometimes we think we are indestructible until it happens to you. Then it forces you to change your diet and consider exercising," says Dr. Appolon.

This is not an argument for soda over juice. The point being made is that you don't really know what you're getting unless you look at the label. And without knowing, round and round we go on the hamster wheel on our futile attempts to be healthier individuals.

Take the extra five minutes to look at the nutrition labels and ingredients list. A good rule of thumb is the less ingredients the better. Also, the more words on the ingredients list you struggle to pronounce, the worse. Butylated hydroxyanisole? No thank you, please. And be sure to shy away from foods high in saturated fat and added sugars. A good guide to follow is to avoid foods that contain over 20 grams of sugar or 10 grams of saturated fat in a single serving.

Turn that light switch on in your head and start making yourself aware of the foods you're consuming. Stop eating that thing that tastes like chicken and actually eat the real thing. These days, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it isn't necessarily a duck.