Become a Food Detective: Why you should read food labels and how to do it

With so many health trends out there today, it seems every product has some health claim on the front of its package. “Sugar-free”, “All-Natural”, or “Fat-Free” sure sound healthy, right? But are they as healthy as you think?

Don’t be fooled by these so-called health claims. The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. Just because it looks healthy doesn’t mean that it is. Remember these companies want you to buy their products, so they’ll put anything they’re allowed to on it in order to convince you to buy it. If a product has to convince you it’s healthy, most likely it is just the opposite.

Not to mention the oh so pretty colors on all the packages that are sure to grab your attention.

Read the Ingredient List

The FDA requires products to have a nutrition label on every package that includes the amount of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, calories, ingredients etc. The problem with that is everyone’s eyes go straight to the large box to read how many calories and nutrient content, but does anyone ever look at the ingredient list? That is where the hidden information lies and where you become a food detective and take your health into your own hands because companies are betting that you don’t know where half of those ingredients come from.

Ingredients are listed in order of the amount they are used. So the very first ingredient listed, is the most used in the product. The less ingredients the better.

“All-Natural”

The term “All-Natural” sounds healthy, right? Who doesn’t want food that contain all-natural ingredients?!? Well, it turns out the FDA doesn’t have any regulation on the meaning “all-natural”, so it is a very vague description and often used as a marketing tool. These products can still be highly processed and filled with sugar.

Products that have the term “all-natural” in the ingredient list may contain some things that I bet you wouldn’t think twice about eating if you really knew where it came from. For instance, Castoreum is an “all-natural” ingredient used in strawberry, raspberry and vanilla flavored foods like ice creams, as well as gelatins, baked goods, candy, chewing gum and well, the list goes on. I bet you didn’t know that Castoreum is actually a secretion obtained from beaver anal glands. Yum! I’d like a side order of beaver anal glands please! Hey, as long as it’s in moderation right??!

Carmine or carminic acid is an “all-natural” product that is used as food dyes for many processed foods. This lovely ingredient actually comes from crushed and boiled bugs like beetles. Another appetizing thought.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is also an “all-natural” food, because it technically comes from corn. However, this is a highly processed artificial sweetener that contains high levels of fructose, which raises blood sugar levels, and can create liver damage. HFCS has also been linked to the rising rate in obesity and type 2 diabetes. And just an FYI, the “healthy” alternative agave contains more fructose than HFCS which should also be avoided.

Unfortunately, just because it says “all-natural” doesn’t mean that it’s healthy and can actually be downright gross. It doesn’t mean that all of these products contain these disgusting ingredients, but some do and they can get away with it by using the term “all-natural” in the ingredient list. Just another reason to stay away from any processed foods because you really don’t know what’s in them.

You can check out this article for other hidden ingredients to look out for:
http://organics.org/11-disgusting-natural-ingredients-in-your-food/

Sugars

Sugars are easily disguised in products that I’m sure you’ve seen in almost every packaged food. These are just a few examples of how sugar is disguised:

♣ Sucrose
♣ Fructose
♣ Lactose
♣ Dextrose
♣ Fruit juice
♣ Corn syrup
♣ Barley malt
♣ Dehydrated cane juice
♣ Maltodextrin
♣ Raw sugar

Added sugar, no matter what kind it is, only adds additional calories and no nutrients. The food you eat is meant to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs in order to perform the functions that keep us alive.

Artificial sweeteners are used in products to cut calories and still allow the use of the “sugar-free” claim. If the product has the words aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda or aka chlorinated sugar) or saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) put it back. These sugars are neurotoxins and have been linked to weight gain.

Fat Free Claims

A product with the label “fat-free” on it is actually allowed to contain up to 0.5g of fat per serving. That may not sound like a lot to you, but in reality, no one ever eats exactly the amount of servings that are in each box. Say you get a box of 6 cookies and each cookie contains 1g of fat. Half of a cookie is one serving. This can actually be labeled “fat-free” because ½ of the cookie contains 0.5g of fat. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never picked up a box of cookies and only ate half of one and put it back. Let’s say you eat 3 cookies, that’s 3g of fat that you didn’t know you were consuming due to the misleading label on the front of the package.

Multi-Grain and Whole Wheat claims

A wheat kernel consists of three parts, the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the outer shell which is high in fiber. The germ is the second layer that is nutrient dense and the endosperm is the inner most layer that is mostly starch. A multi-grain bread only means it contain more than one grain, and not necessarily that it is in its whole form including the bran, germ and endosperm. Meaning this bread can be very processed. Wheat bread is also a very vague definition. It just means that it contains some wheat, not the whole kernel and again is still very processed. Whole wheat means it contains the bran, germ and endosperm. However, some foods can say whole wheat but actually use more white four than wheat flour.
Grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and brown rice are all excellent sources that provide you with lots of fiber (which is crucial for optimal health) along with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Sprouted grains are even better because the grain is at its peak in nutritional value.

It is always best to stay on the outside aisles at the grocery store, preferably getting most of your groceries in the produce section. The closer you eat foods in their whole form (apples, spinach, potatoes, etc) the better your health will be.

BeFoodSmart.com is an excellent source to find out what an ingredient is. I’m not telling you to stand in the aisle for an hour at the grocery store typing in every ingredient… but if you’re at home right now you can go in your cupboard and scope out a few ingredients if you don’t know what they are, just to get an idea.

~Lindsay Rehker
Owner, Smooth-ease LLC

Resources

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm

http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=18629183

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