Editorial: Fine Print – The Truth About Food Labels

Editorial: Fine Print – The Truth About Food Labels

By Julie Maio

Have you ever experienced a food baby? You know, when you look about six months pregnant after eating a big meal (and believe me, birthing your double bacon cheeseburger and onion ring love child is certainly not as rewarding as the miracle that is child birth). Well, the same thing can happen if you don’t pay attention to ingredient labels on pre-packaged foods, which I’ve learned the hard way.

Since giving up gluten and dairy, I’ve had to read over ingredient labels to evade consuming additives that make me look comparable to Big Bertha (you know, the arcade game where you threw plastic balls into Bertha’s mouth as she yelled “FEED ME, FEED ME!”. That was my favorite game, so it’s no wonder I eat three jars of almond butter a week… anyway, I digress) and I’m still in the process of educating myself on what to avoid to this day.

Even if you aren’t looking out for certain allergens, it is highly beneficial to know what ingredients are in the food that you eat, because in today’s world food can contain harmful substitutes, additives, and chemicals (oh my!) that make you feel yucky and bloated, and diminish your health all the same.

Before delving into certain types of ingredients that you should avoid, let’s go over some general tips and tricks to deciphering this whole label reading process. For starters, if there are ingredients that you aren’t able to pronounce (unless if phonetics just aren’t your thing) or aren’t familiar with, you should put the package down. This typically means that the product contains an unnatural ingredient that isn’t the best for human consumption.

Placement of ingredients on the label is also important, as “ingredients are listed in descending order by proportion or quantity” (Hyman, 2012; Wilder, 2012). Therefore, if you were buying salsa, you’d want tomatoes, onions, and peppers as the first ingredients on the label, because that would mean that the product has more natural ingredients as opposed to preservatives and additives.

Another rule of thumb is, as the ingredient list gets longer, the less healthy that product is (unless if you’re buying a pre-packaged salad with lots of veggies in it, that’s definitely an exception to the rule!) (Hyman, 2012). Some people suggest not buying anything that has over five ingredients, but that may be hard to start off with at first. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint (yes, I already used that analogy in a previous post, but I think it’s appropriate. Or maybe it’s an all-night bender, not a power-hour… no, that’s definitely worse), but these few tips will have you well on your way to buying healthier pre-packaged foods in no time!

Here’s an example of what I mean…

Now that we have a better idea of where to start when checking out a label, it’s time to tackle additives and substitutes, because doing so will make for a happier and healthier you! But before I dive in here, I will warn you that avoiding all of the ingredients I’m about to mention might knock out a good portion of your current diet. Fortunately, there are typically healthy versions of whatever snack you love (and if not, it’s okay to splurge or treat yourself here and there).

Anything with high-fructose corn syrup should be avoided, as it is a liquid sugar that your body quickly burns, and may contain mercury (heavy metals = BAD!). High-fructose corn syrup provides your body with no nutritional value yet slows down your metabolism and makes it easy to put on weight (Dolson, 2014).

The same thing goes for anything that has hydrogenated tacked on to its name. This means that the product includes trans fats and vegetable oils, which are very susceptible to turning rancid at room temperature (Hyman, 2012). Therefore, the food is already damaged goods on the shelves at your local grocery store, and when you eat these products, free radicals will find their way into your body.

Another ingredient to be wary of is highly refined cooking oils, such as corn, soy, safflower, etc. These oils can cause inflammation in your body, among other effects (more on that at a later point in time!), but it is best to use olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, etc.

Lastly, (at least last in this post, there is still more to be covered, but information overload doesn’t help anyone), artificial sweeteners of all kinds should be avoided: aspartame, Splenda, sucralose, and sugar alcohols (but again, cheat here and there, because we all need a drink to celebrate various birthdays and holidays with a nice cold brewski or vino, especially ones involving romance… blech). As Dr. Hyman notes in his 2012 article, “they make you hungrier, slow your metabolism, give you bad gas, and make you store belly fat.” I don’t know about you, but none of those side effects sound desirable to me, especially as bathing suit season is upon us.

While there is some solid information in this post (not to toot (speaking of gas…) my own horn here), I urge you to be an informed consumer and take to Google, the classroom, your library, or whatever other medium speaks to you the most. Do some exploring and see what else is out there to further educate your noggin’. Challenge yourself to read more labels each time you go to the grocery store (if you’re like me, that’s at least three times a week. Oh God, I’m turning into my mother).

Stay tuned for my next post, which will cater to individuals with food sensitivities and allergies and how we need to be extra diligent in reading labels, because no one wants to be glutened (accidental consumption of gluten due to cross-contamination or accidentally consuming gluten) and have to spend your night on the toilet (but it is a good excuse to get out of a date or plans that you’d rather skip out on…).

Most importantly, maybe you have some tips of your own or exciting information to share with the masses — please leave a comment if you do! I’m always down to learn more, and the ultimate goal is to use information to heal as many people as possible.

References

Dolson, Laura. “How To Read a Nutrition Label.” Weblog post. About.com Low Carb Diets. N.p., 16 May 2014. Web. 10 June 2014.

Hyman, Mark. “10 Rules to Eat Safely for Life (and What to Remove From Your Kitchen).” Web blog post. The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.

Wilder, Andrew. “Really Reading the Ingredients.” Weblog post. Attune Foods Daily Digest. N.p., 17 May 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.

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Julie Maio
Julie.Maio1@gmail.com

Julie Maio, who is also known by many as Yoolie Anne, was born and raised in Albany, NY 24 years ago. It was there she acquired a passion for talking with her hands, speaking a little too loudly, and eating blocks of cheese thanks to being 100% Italian. Flash-forward to college, Julie partook in the self-torture that is rugby, and studied public relations, communication studies, music, and global studies (what a mouthful). Speaking of music, Julie loves to jam out on her bongos and bust a move as much as possible. Currently, Julie is working on her master’s in communication at Illinois State University, and is also a graduate teaching assistant. Her research focuses on health communication, specifically doctor patient communication. After graduating ISU, Julie aims to become a health coach and patient advocate. She hopes to educate the masses on how to become healthier and happier one day at a time. Her other passions in life include consuming copious amounts of almond butter, binge watching Mad Men (because who doesn’t love a healthy dose of Donald Draper?), and making far too many dad jokes on a daily basis.