Organic Living, REAL FOOD

Real Food: Decoding labels

Up until just a few months ago, I would shop like most other people, wandering up and down every aisle, occasionally checking the back of the box to see how much sugar or fat was in it, and not really paying attention to anything else. Now when I pick up a box, I see something totally different. Ingredients. Amazing how I never really noticed them before.

As I start to read the labels I see all sorts of strange things that I have never heard of before. Do I really want to eat those things? Um-no, I don’t. But sometimes the lovely food companies try to trick you into thinking something is not there when it really is, or lure you into believing the claims written on the box like “fat free!” “no added sugar!” and “all natural!”

It is amazing to me when I shop at a “regular” grocery store now, almost every single thing (including canned fruit) contains one or more of these additives. I find that now, unless I’m at Whole Foods or similar store, I only shop the perimeter and never buy anything from the center aisles.

Here are three rules to help you decode the labels:

1. Ignore claims on the box: “All natural”, “whole grain”, “healthy” and “real fruit” mean nothing. They are simply marketing terms to draw you in. Unless it says USDA Certified Organic, it’s not. Don’t be fooled into buying something based on what the package says. And don’t worry about calories and fat- worry about ingredients- your body knows how to process natural foods.

2. Read the ingredients: The best thing to remember when buying food from a box, can or jar is to look at the number of ingredients. The fewer the better. Then actually read the ingredients. Do you know what they all are? Now I whip out my iPhone and google any ingredient that I’m not familiar with to see if it’s really something that’s ok to eat, even in the health food store.

3. Look for sneaky ingredients:

Sugar Free” claims usually mean they have substituted an artificial sweetener in place of sugar. Artificial sweeteners are NOT good for you, they will NOT make you skinny and they are NOT better for you than sugar. Instead they could make you obese, get breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, birth defects and more.

Brown Rice Syrup included in some “healthy” products in place of sugar, is actually linked to high levels of arsenic. Not good.

MSG is thought to have been removed from many products due to negative effects from headaches to nausea to sudden cardiac death. Instead, they disguise the name and keep it in the food. Here are common sneaky forms of MSG to watch out for (and yes, some form of msg is in nearly every fast food hamburger, bun and sandwich bread- if you look at the ingredients on their website- those brave enough to post them- you will see some of these listed). For the complete list click here and here.

Yeast Extract, Autolyzed Yeast, Textured Protein, Calcium/Sodium Caseinate, Gelatin, Glutamate/Glutamic Acid, Monosodium/Monopotassium Glutamate, Carrageenan.

Food Dyes are in many products, even ones you wouldn’t think need food coloring. Unfortunately these dyes are linked to cancer, ADHD, allergies and tumors. Here is a great article outlining specific food dyes, what foods they’re commonly added to and the effects.

Conventionally Grown in the produce section is a nice way of saying “we used pesticides and/or genetically modified seeds”. Why does this matter? Pesticides have been linked to ADHD, Autism, Cancer and who knows what else… Here are the Dirty Dozen foods to definitely buy organic (buy in season produce for lowest prices). And here’s why you want to avoid genetically modified corn, tomatoes and other “food”. Buy USDA Certified Organic, or grow your own.

Here are 12 dangerous food additives to avoid Be sure to add these to the bottom of your shopping list so you aren’t confused and misled.

Fish you should never eat, a great list of toxic fish as well as a list of clean fish you should look for instead.

Here’s a great example of reading labels- what my husband and I chose for dessert when on vacation (he was completely shocked when he compared his to mine)

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5 thoughts on “Real Food: Decoding labels”

  1. I have come to realize that labels are important, but also I don't want them to take over my life. I used to get stressed out about them if my kids had snacks at their friends house that I knew weren't so great. but I realized I can't control everything. We can eat healthy and teach our kids to eat healthy but we also don't want it to consume our lives stressing about it. Just do the best you can! Great post, the things you highlighted are by far the most important to watch for. Lots of my friend tell me they eat “Light Yoplait” which is not good!

    Haagan dazs……YUMMY! Except you have the wrong flavor, you have to try the Dulce Delache (sp) It's yummy!

  2. Through trial and error we figured out that various things including MSG give Loren migraines. I could not believe how many products contain MSG. Cutting MSG alone improved our diet exponentially because it's in practically every processed food ever.

  3. This post came after last nights binge on butterfinger ice cream. Whoops! Groupon was having a two-fer on Full circle produce…so I bought it. Now the task will be trying to think of ways to cook it:)

  4. Well stated and written. One area you didn't address is that a lot of processed foods, and “healthy” foods that are processed like Larabars all have soy. Soy is one of the top 12 food allergens yet, it's in EVERYTHING. Vegetable oil is soy or contains soy. I figured out I had issues with it by process of elimination. There will be lots of folks out there with general feeling of malaise and gastrointestinal disturbances and it probably is the habitual use of these food products.

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