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Supermarket Strategies part II - Reading Food Labels

Updated: Jan 18

Reading food labels is a must.

Reading food labels is a must. One cannot educate oneself by relying on the ads on TV, in magazines, or in the grocery store touting how healthy a company’s product is. Although FDA-approved, ingredients used for filler, flavoring, and preservation can be toxic and wreak havoc on our bodies over time. Reading food labels is the only way to see what is in the product to judge if it is nutritious.

The following are a few examples of products that -- on the surface -- seem to be similar until one reads the labels.

Ice cream: Breyers vs. Pierre’s

Breyers Ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Natural Flavor, Natural Tara Gum

Pierre’s Ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Skim Milk, Corn Syrup, Natural Flavor, Cellulose Gum, Mono and Diglycerides, Ground Vanilla Beans, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Dextrose

Pierre’s contains five more ingredients than Breyers, two of which are sugars, and another is mono and diglycerides, emulsifiers made from soy and vegetable oils. Soy and vegetable oil byproducts in ice cream?

Are all the extra ingredients in Pierre’s necessary? It is ice cream, for God’s sake!

Breyers does not get off the hook. Natural flavor, the fourth ingredient defined by the FDA, allows food companies to use the term “natural flavors” to describe any food additive that originated in nature. Sounds wholesome until one learns that the long-term effects of consuming natural flavors have not been studied.

[Natural flavors] will often have some solvent and preservatives—and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients.

David Andrews, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group

Cereal: Cheerios vs. Great grains

Cheerios Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tocopherols, Trisodium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Natural Color. Contains Wheat Ingredients

Cheerios has only 1g of sugar per 30g serving, and there are no artificial colors or flavors. Although Cheerios is a better choice than Great Grains, it is not a healthy food. The seventh ingredient, Trisodium phosphate, is a heavy-duty cleaner often used to prepare surfaces for painting. It is cautioned against being used on metal, glass, ceramic tile, or grout because it will stain them.

According to the NIH National Library of Medicine, TSP is “a corrosive substance that can cause injury to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract; Inhalation of dust may cause pulmonary edema; The human fatal dose by mouth is about 50 grams.” Any question whether the FDA cares about the health of U.S. citizens?

Great Grains Ingredients: Whole grain flakes (whole grain wheat, sugar, whole grain barley, whole grain rolled oats, corn syrup, wheat flour, malted barley flour, salt, natural flavor), granola, [whole grain wheat, high oleic vegetable oil (canola or sunflower), corn syrup, whey (from milk), sugar], dried cranberries, (sugar, cranberries, glycerin, citric acid, sunflower oil), almonds, BHT, and vitamins and minerals. You’ll notice from the Great Grains ingredient list it contains BHT, which is used as a preservative. BHT is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil, and embalming fluid. The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), which I used as a firefighter to identify and safely handle chemicals, states the following about BHT:

  • Do NOT let this chemical enter the environment.

  • Avoid breathing.

  • Ingestion causes abdominal pain, confusion, dizziness, Nausea, Vomiting.

  • The substance may have effects on the liver.

  • Combustible.

One can also see sugar is listed five times in the ingredient list, making the sugar total 32 times the amount of sugar per serving than Cheerios. This healthy powerhouse also contains vegetable oil, which like sugar, increases inflammation and the risk of several diseases, including heart disease and cancer. The bottom line; is that food labels and ads can be deceptive. As one should start to notice from the above examples, there are many things to look for when reading food labels. The following are some practical tips to help someone make healthy choices:

  • Read the entire label including the nutritional facts and the ingredient list.

  • Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Ingredients in the largest amounts are listed first.

  • Avoid products that contain trans fats. You’ll find trans fats listed in the Nutritional Facts section under total fats. Buyer beware! According to label laws signed in January 2006, a product that contains a half gram of trans fat or less per serving is allowed to list trans-fat as “zero” in the Nutritional Facts section. Many products also use this loophole to advertise zero trans-fat on the front of the package. Therefore, it is so important that you read the ingredients list, although you won’t find trans-fat listed. See the next item.

  • Avoid products that contain “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil” in the ingredients. They all contain trans-fat. Warning: Trans fats are produced through the process of hydrogenation. This process turns polyunsaturated oils into fats that are solid at room temperature. The dangers of these man-made fats have been known for decades.

  • Try to avoid products that contain polyunsaturated fats, e.g., canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, safflower oil, or cotton seed oil. One of the biggest reasons polyunsaturated fats are so unhealthy is because they are very susceptible to becoming oxidized or rancid when exposed to heat and light and contain extremely high levels of free radicals. The polyunsaturated oils (vegetable oil) sold on store shelves, used in restaurants, or contained in the processed food you buy in grocery stores are already rancid.

  • Try to choose products that contain coconut, palm, palm kernel, olive, avocado, or pastured (grass-fed) animal fats.

  • Only choose oils that are labeled Cold Pressed, Expeller Pressed or Extra Virgin.

  • Avoid foods that contain monosodium glutamate or MSG. WARNING: It’s been observed in many studies that animals fed MSG became morbidly obese. This phenomenon is so reproducible, it is the method scientists use to produce obese animals in doing obesity research. MSG has also been linked to a whole host of degenerative disorders. But federal label laws make it difficult to spot MSG. Any food containing less than 99 percent pure MSG can be labeled by its common name; soy protein, soy protein isolate, stock, broth, vegetable protein and more. Why is the glutamate industry opposed to letting consumers know where MSG is hidden? I think the answer is obvious.

  • Avoid foods that contain fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or corn syrup. Future article coming on the devastatingly negative effects of fructose.

  • When comparing like products, make sure the serving sizes are the same or similar.

  • A serving size does not usually reflect how much of the product you will normally eat. In fact, most eat quite a bit more than the listed serving size.

  • When trying to choose foods high in fiber, ingredients like “enriched wheat,” “stone ground wheat,” “nutra-grain”, or “seven grain”, are very deceptive. Unless the word “whole” appears in the ingredient, the product is lacking nutrients, including fiber.

  • When shopping for organic foods, look for the green and white label that reads USDA Organic. Shop at your local farm. Get to know the owners and ask how they grow their food and raise their animals.

The next Items have nothing to do with reading labels but will help you make better choices in the supermarket.

  • Do not choose oils that are exposed to light being sold in clear containers.

  • Do not purchase oil contained in plastic containers.

All it takes is a little planning and effort to eat healthier food. Follow the above and remember, the farther a food is from its natural state, the worse it is for us.

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