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.