What’s On the Box? Beware of Front Label Tease
Have you ever been to the Grocery Store, picked up a ‘whole grain’ ‘fiber rich’ healthy foods and snacks and realized later when you talk to someone or read something online that it was the worst food you could have picked from your family and yourself? I know I have. I call it ‘well intentioned, poor eating’.
What the food industry put on their packaging can be confusing at best, misleading at worse. They can give consumers a false sense of eating healthy; leading them to eat more processed and packaged foods – which ultimately lead to a slew of health issue that our nation is facing right now.
- Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus = nutrients such as minerals and fiber have been removed and then vitamins are added back during processing. Try whole foods, vegetables, fruits, steel cut oats and organic produce where you can
- Fruit drink = probably little or no real fruit and a lot of sugar. Flip the carton, can and read the label and look for sugar and sugar substitutes, artificial flavors and coloring. Even better, eat a piece of fruit instead.
- Made with wheat, rye, or multi-grains = have very little whole grain. When the grain is processed to make bread, pastas and other foods, it is stripped off its nutrients during the processing .
- Natural = the manufacturer started with a natural source, but once it's processed the food may not resemble anything natural. Look for "100% All Natural" and "No Preservatives.” Again-flip and read the labels and check for ingredients you don’t recognize and cannot pronounce.
- Organically grown, pesticide-free, or no artificial ingredients: Trust only labels that say "Certified Organically Grown” and look for the USDA seal.
- Sugar-free, reduced fat or fat-free: Don't assume the product is low-calorie. The manufacturer compensated the change in texture with unhealthy ingredients that don't taste very good and some of these products have no fewer calories than the real thing. Also, sugar-free foods are most likely to be sweetened with artificial sweeteners – which the body recognizes as toxic chemicals.
- The term “whole grain” is allowed to be used very loosely. The nutrition value of flour made from whole grain is quite different from when you eat the grain in its entirely – such as when you cook quinoa, brown rice, or millet.
- 0 trans fat = this label is allowed on foods that contain less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving. (No amount of trans fat is recommended, and it only takes 2 grams of trans fats to show its harmful effect.)
Reading the ingredient list on a nutrition label can be daunting at times. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you look at an ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order from the greatest amount to the least.
- The fewer the number of ingredients, the better.
- The first or second ingredient should be what the packaging claims the product to be.
- If the first ingredient is “sugar”, put it back!
- If the first ingredient says “enriched wheat flour”… think twice.
- If there's a long list of scary-sounding ingredients you can't pronounce… not a good idea!
- Say no to artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings – they mess with your brain!
Nowadays many packaged foods claim to be “trans fat” free to position themselves as healthy choices. What the food industry doesn’t tell you is that when a label shows 0 grams trans fat per serving it is allowed to contain up to 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving. And a diet of just 2 grams of trans fat per day has been found to be associated with a slew of health issues. Some foods labeled “zero trans fat” may contain high amounts of fat, calories and sodium. Frozen entrees like fried chicken and fried fish are two examples.
So what exactly is trans fat, and what does it do to your health?
- It sabotages the good cholesterol and boosts bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipo-proteins that clog arteries and cause heart disease.
- It is suspected of playing a role in diabetes and cancer.
- It is found in a lot of packaged foods.
- It can appear in the ingredient list as “hydrogenated oil” or “partially-hydrogenated oil”
I was surprised to find that my protein shake had 18 grams of sugar. You know eating sugar is bad for you, but do you know how to identify all forms of sugar that will cause just as much issue as plain “sugar”? Here are the different names that sugar can appear in food labels – print the list out and create a “cheat list” for your next grocery trip:
- Brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar
- Cane juice/evaporated cane juice
- Corn syrups
- Dextrose, or glucose, aka corn sugar
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Lactose, or milk sugar
- Levulose, or fructose
- Raw sugar
- Sorbitol, mannitol, malitol and xylitol (sugar alcohol)
- Sucrose, or table sugar
- In general, watch out for anything with “sugar”, “-ose” or “-ol”
For years, I consumed ‘Diet Coke’ and thought Aspartame was better than sugar. Atleast it was minus the calories. It messed with my body for a long long time!
So you know sugar is bad for you. What about using artificial sweeteners to satisfy your sweet tooth? They contain 0 calories, so it’s supposed to be ok, right?
Artificial sweeteners may taste like sugar, but your body doesn’t recognize them as food!
They are chemicals that your body recognize as toxins, and add to your body’s toxic load. Symptoms of toxicity can include: fatigue, headache, mood changes, digestive issues and brain fog – just to name a few.
Moreover, studies have found that the sweet taste without the calories actually messes with our perception of satiety – we are telling our brain that sweet taste no longer equates to calories! Researches have shown that people who consume diet drinks and use artificial sweeteners actually gain weight, instead of losing weight!
Here are some common artificial sweeteners that you should look out for when reading food labels – it pays to get familiar to both their generic/chemical name, as well as the brand names that they come in to make sure you don’t miss a thing:
- Aspartame, sold under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal® - it contains a neurotoxin!
- Saccharin, sold under the brand name Sweet’N Low®
- Sucralose, sold under the brand name Splenda®
- Acesulfame K (or acesulfame potassium), produced by Hoechst, a German chemical company; widely used in foods, beverages and pharmaceutical products around the world.
- Neotame, produced by the NutraSweet Company; the most recent addition to FDA’s list of approved artificial sweeteners, neotame is used in diet soft drinks and low-calorie foods.