Billions of people around the world consume pre-packaged medicine and food every day. However, few people tend to take into consideration exactly what is in these products. Most consumers hardly give a second glance to the long list of hard-to-pronounce words that is inevitably printed across the back of nearly every frozen dinner, bottle of cough syrup, or even can of greens. The result of this is that many people end up taking in a quite a bit more sugar, sodium, preservatives, and allergens than they might know. So how to avoid these common pitfalls? The answer is simple: know how to read labels. Here are a few things to keep in mind when checking out the ingredients list.

Avoiding Sugar and Sodium

 

Two of the most unhealthy substances one can consume are also some of the most common in everyday products. Sugar and sodium are both perfectly healthy in small quantities, but are known to cause serious health problems when consumed frequently and in large quantities. Avoiding excess sodium is rather simple; all products in the U.S. are labeled with the amount of sodium, as well as its share the FDA-recommended daily value given in a perce

ntage. Sugars are a bit more complicated, as 1) they tend to come in a variety of names, 2) some sugars are better for you than others, and 3) the % of recommended daily value is conspicuously absent from nearly all products. Doing some research on the subject could help you manage your sugar intake better, but a good rule of thumb is to only eat products with natural sugar–that is to say, no added sugar–such as fruits and vegetables.

Looking Closely At Serving Size/Dosage

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is one of the most commonly disobeyed rules when it comes to both medicine and food. In the case of food, many people simply do not take the time to see how large “a serving” ought to be, and simply go with their gut. The results of this can be harmful, because the sodium, sugar, or glucose per serving on the back seems small, but only because servings are being measured in rather small portions. With medicine on the other hand, many people make the mistake of thinking that a dose, like a serving, is simply a recommendation. However, these doses have been measured very specifically by doctors–and for good reason. Doubling a dosage, for example, will not typically simply double the effects of a medicine, as one might believe. Taking even slightly more medicine than is recommended can have noticeable adverse health effects.

Gluten and Other Allergens

If you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or allergies to any other type of ingredient commonly found in food or medicine, you probably already know how important it is to not only read labels, but to also understand what is/is not required of companies to put on

their labels. For example, while it is generally required by the government for foods and medicines to list which ingredients have been purposefully put into them, it is not required to state possible cross contamination (for example, non-gluten-containing food being processed in the same factory as other gluten-containing foods). This is extremely important to your safety, and your overall health.

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