Food labels are confusing. But we've been told that we should pay attention to food labels. In fact, when I started off into this "be aware of fitness and nutrition" many years ago, it was something I paid a lot of attention to. And told everyone around me to do as well.
Should we read food labels? Should we look them up on Google and research them and understand if an ingredient is good or not, and then take a call based on that? How do we find a reliable source for that?
One good reason to do this is if you are intolerant to a specific food, let's say gluten or soy or peanuts as random examples. Then, you most definitely want to scan the food and make sure it is not going to make you sick.
But we need to remember that everything is a chemical. Just because it has a confusing name does not make something artificial, nor does it mean it is automatically bad for you.
a simple and quick approach
I used to spend quite a lot of time when I did not know much. Because I wanted to be careful and all that. I would be on my phone, looking up ingredients and seeing what they meant and all that.
I don't think that's necessary at all, except in the case of allergies. Instead, here are my suggestions for how you can do this much quicker.
By default, anything that comes in a box or in a package is an average/poor choice, when compared to natural food. The less packaged goods in your diet, the better. Or rather, buy more vegetables and real food.
It is near-impossible to avoid packaged stuff for most of us. The lesser the ingredients on the food label, the better. If it has a zillion things, should it? Too many ingredients is a potential red flag.
Look for allergens. No allergies - great.
And that's about it. Don't overthink food labels. The better choice is real food. Being confused by xanthan gum and the like gives us extremely marginal returns.
Instead, focus on the big rocks - are you eating enough vegetables, getting enough protein, drinking enough water? For most of us, this is ample. If you are doing all this and want to step it up, sure, spend time reading food labels and all that.
Otherwise, do the fundamentals first. Eat real food.