Get Real!

Finding ways to enjoy the hell out of life, while on our journey towards a healthy, authentic and passion-filled life.

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Get Real about Food Labels and Ingredient Lists

So you have made some decisions about what you would like to put in your body? Organic. Whole grains. No added sugar. These are just some examples, as I realize all of our goals can be very different.

One obstacle that can sometimes get in the way of eating how we want to eat, that we may not always be thinking about, is food labels, packaging, and ingredients. Some products make claims on their labels that exaggerate positive nutritional aspects or minimize negative nutritional aspects (or both at the same time). Some products change their packaging/labeling to promote a certain aspect of the product, even though it is exactly the same as it’s formerly-packaged cousin. Some products use organic or whole grain ingredients, but also use highly refined ingredients as well. They claim ‘with organic _____’ or ‘contains whole grains.’ This does not mean the products are 100% organic or whole grain, and in fact there may be very little in the product that actually is.

Here are some helpful tips to help keep things real!

  • The ingredients are listed on the label in order, as far as how much of the ingredient is in the product from most to least. A trick that can catch you off guard is if they classify different types of an ingredient. For example, they may list out cane sugar, beet sugar, and HFCS. Well, separated out, these may be in the product in small enough amounts that they got moved down the ingredient list, but added together it could still make up a large portion of the ingredients in the product.
  • Another thing to pay attention to on the ingredients list is: all the ingredients! I don’t even bother reading an ingredient list if I glance at it and can easily see dozens of ingredients listed. There are lots of things that can be hidden behind this ingredients list. Types of sugars/sweeteners that you may not know the name of, other chemicals used to preserve food or change its taste or color. ‘Natural flavor’ can be derived from anything in nature (whether plant or animal based). For example, Foodbabe, shined the light on raspberry and vanilla flavoring often coming from secretions from a beavers anal glands.
  • Whole grains. Unless a product says 100% whole grain (or 100% whole wheat, 100% whole oat, etc.), then it is likely not 100% whole grain. It may only be 2% whole grain, but they are able to label it this way. So, ‘with whole grains,’ ‘with 9g of whole grains,’ ‘includes whole grains,’ etc. does not mean 100%. If you are unsure, check the ingredient list, any grain listed (whether corn, oat, buckwheat, spelt, wheat flour, etc.) should have the word whole in front of it. And again these are listed in order, so if the ingredients say wheat flour, corn flour, whole wheat flour, then the whole grains are not the majority of the grains in the product.
  • Organics. Even within organic products (that promise to be pesticide and unnecessary chemical free) you want to check the ingredient lists as sugars, salts and natural flavors can still exist. But, at least, if a product is labeled ‘certified organic’ then all ingredients included are indeed organic. However if the label states, ‘with organic _____’, then only the ingredient specified is organic and other ingredients within the product are not. There is much more to the topic of organic foods, including ways that non organic practices or ingredients can sneak into our ‘certified organic’ foods, as well as how there may be small or local companies that practice organic food making, but are not certified and thus not labeled as such. However, I will leave this for a different, more detailed, blog about organics later.
  • Check the nutrition labels on everything. You never can be too sure, no matter what the label boasts. HFCS is hiding out just about everywhere (drinks, sauces, dressings, you name it). Sugar and salt are often included in seasoning packets or mixes. I accidently used a ‘lemon pepper’ seasoning mix one time, and upon tasting it (as it tasted of pure salt) I looked and saw that the first two ingredients listed were salt and sugar (and then somewhere down the list was a hint of lemon and pepper).

This is really when it’s relevant to remind you: Do the best you can with what you have and what you know. If you do that, you will continue to grow.

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Get Real! … about ingredients!

Ingredients in our food!

I heard somewhere (at some point during my journey) to ‘never eat anything that has more than five ingredients in it.’ Heck if I can remember where I heard this, but I just knew that people I looked up to, nutritionally speaking, were fussing about it so I thought it must have merit.


This was before I understood what real food actually was. Sounds crazy right? I mean I had at one point eaten myself up to the point of being 260 pounds! But I’m telling you I didn’t know what real food was? Well, it was no surprise then that at the beginning of my journey I didn’t understand that high fructose corn syrup didn’t have to be in almost every single thing I ate. Or that Natural flavors are sometimes naturally disgusting! Or that those hard to pronounce chemically sounding ingredients were just that! Hard to pronounce chemical ingredients. I thought if they sold it in the grocery stores, than it’s real food, right?

Don’t get me wrong, we are all at different points on our journey and sometimes on different paths at that. The journey to true health is like any journey. It takes time, it takes change, it takes dedication (to the journey itself, not to some strict set of guidelines or rules or restrictions). So if simply reading ingredients when you shop at all is something you’ve never done before than start there! Get curious. What is in your food?

Or next, try focusing on one problem ingredient that, as I said, is in nearly everything: High fructose corn syrup. See if you can find products without it when you are looking for BBQ sauce, salad dressing, pre-packaged fruit cups, or pastry items. Chances are that eliminating (or aiming to) this one ingredient will steer you in the right direction most of the time. Now … herein comes an important fact about ingredients. Ingredient lists can be deceiving! HFCS is not always labeled as such. It may be labeled as corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn sugar, or whatever else they can legally call it but that sounds as natural and non-sugary as possible.

Personally, I try to avoid the word sugar in any form (which takes some practice, as there are lots of ‘natural’ and artificial sweeteners/sugars out there to remember) on the ingredient list of things I buy. Fruits and Vegetables have their own natural sugar, so I don’t see why we have to add it to everything. Like marinades? Seasoning mixes? Why? That is what I want to do, take the care to grill up some lean chicken or salmon that’s been seasoned with sugar and other spices (that they called ‘lemon pepper’ or ‘taco seasoning’), and then slather it with a sugary sauce.

This blog wasn’t about sugar though. Or High fructose corn syrup. It’s just that all these foods we eat, if we made them from scratch (I know, I know, totally not always possible) would use just real foods. The applesauce would be made of just apples, lemon and a pinch of cinnamon. The chili just lean meat, whole dry black beans, chicken stock (with no salt added), tomatoes (pureed and whole), onion, carrots, and real spices. It is possible to eat real foods, there is such a thing, and conventional grocery store shelves are selling something else entirely.

We can’t get to the end of this road overnight though. And I would say that we are never to the end of this road. But the more we get curious and move towards change, the closer we are. As I have been stating at the end of each blog, and will continue to: We all have different constraints. Do the best you can with you what have and what you know. If you do that, you will continue to grow.


The Whole Wheat Debate: Understanding Grains

The whole wheat debate…

Ok…. So my boyfriend and I were going through self-checkout at the local grocery store. He got to the huge bag of brown rice that I put in the cart when he wasn’t looking. Crap, I thought, here it comes. “What is this?” “Brown rice, really?” “You know the only difference is that the white rice is bleached, right?”

And I was stuck. I knew that this wasn’t the only difference, but heck if I could actually explain. All I knew was that whole grains were healthier than white ones, they just were! Luckily for me, I just had to whine for a couple of seconds and all was well … we were back out of the store brown rice and all. But it did make me wonder. Why is whole wheat healthier?? I should know these things!

I mean, why choose whole grains over other processed grains? And what’s the difference anyway? While we are at it, what’s the difference between whole grain and whole wheat? What’s a whole berry (sometimes listed in the ingredient list)? Also, what does wheat mean (as opposed to whole wheat)?

After much research:

Our bread, pasta, tortillas, baked goods, rice, etc. are all made from wheat (which is a grain) or other grains (such as oats, rye, barley, corn, rice, etc). A product, say a piece of bread, can be made from only wheat or it could be multi-grain (made using multiple types of grain, both oat and wheat for example). Now, there are different ways for these grains to be processed which will result in wheat flour (what we consider white, processed flour), whole wheat flour, whole grain flour, or sprouted grains (a whole other ball game, I’ll explain shortly).

It’s important to note that multi-grain does not mean whole grain, it just means it has multiple types of grain within the product but it has nothing to do with how the grains were actually processed (they could be whole grains or they may not be whole grains, this is when you want to check the ingredient list to look for the word whole in front of every wheat ingredient vs. white or wheat or enriched, etc.) Similarly, if a product states it ‘has whole grains’ it still may not be completely whole grain (it may be partially whole grain and partially non-whole grain). If a product says 100% whole grain (or 100% whole wheat), you are in the clear, but if in doubt this is, again, when to check the ingredient list. And again wheat is not whole wheat, if it was whole it would have the word whole in front of it.

So… the grains are either milled or sprouted. Milled is much more common. This just means it is ground (could be stone ground which was the original way of processing grains, or through a machine that now does this for us) into flour. During the milling process for regular wheat flour (white, processed, refined, flour) two important aspects of the grain are removed. These are the bran and germ, which contain many of the nutrients/vitamins/etc. Then these grains might be bleached white (ah ha, the aspect my boyfriend knew about) using chemicals. Then the grains may even be enriched (in other words some nutrients are added back into the grain, but still not with the same nutritional value as the whole grain – bran and germ included – would have). One of the reasons for processing grains in this way is shelf life, as these refined grains can last much longer since some of the natural oils in the grains have been removed with the bran and germ.

When whole grain or whole wheat flour is made, it is milled using all aspects of the grain, the entire or whole grain. Another thing to note here is that with the extra fiber and the makeup of a whole grain, our body processes this slower which prevents spikes in blood sugar (which we all know results in crashes, which result in craving more). So all of this is helpful for our heart, blood pressure, weight management, etc.

For those that can’t stand the taste of whole grain. It doesn’t all taste the same! There are many different types of grains (here’s one list: And there are even different types of wheat (by the way, a wheat berry is the whole completely unprocessed form of wheat, though there are different types). There is white whole wheat for example (wasn’t as commonly used in the US but is now being picked up a bit more) that has a milder taste but is still whole wheat. Different grains and different types of wheat have varying levels of nutritional value, however. But it is still always safe to say that the wholer our grains are, and the less they have been processed, the healthier they are for our bodies and the more nutritional value we gain from them.

Lastly, grains may be sprouted instead of milled. This is when the whole grains are soaked in water to be sprouted. The benefit here is that in whole grains that have been milled, there are nutrients that our body won’t be able to digest, but sprouted grains are broken down in a way that allows our body to more easily digest and absorb the grain and nutrients within. Honestly, I see now that I may have another blog on my hands in regards to these sprouted grains, but for more information right now, I found this website very easy to understand:

Whew… so take that and eat it boyfriend!! Oh wait, we have already switched completely over to all whole grains. Even having whole grain pancakes and turkey bacon with pure maple syrup tonight. YUM YUM!

Here are a list of websites that helped me in my research : )…