Are you diligent about checking labels when you’re grocery shopping? Are you the stand-in-the-middle-of-the-aisle-reading kind of shopper before throwing it in your cart? Well if you’re not, you should be; especially when you’re trying to get your kids to eat as healthy as you do. Many people are highly unaware of what is hiding in their (and their kids’) food and how many loopholes there are for the FDA to hide stuff from you. Here are some tips you need to know before you make the purchase:
TIP #1: LOOK FOR HIDDEN SUGAR
This one, in my opinion, is the most important because it is the most misunderstood, so read thoroughly! Did you know that there are over 61 names for sugar that can be listed in your food??? And since so many people aren’t familiar with all 61 names, they don’t even know it’s in there. Some of these sugars are so-called “natural sugars” occurring in things like fruits, called fructose, but the problem is that the FDA isn’t required to list which sugars are natural and which sugars are added in foods, so we really have no idea how much sugar we are getting “naturally” from our food! According to SugarScience.com, over 74% of packaged foods have added sugar. The scary reality is, we really have no idea what we are eating… In addition to all of us as a society being misinformed, there’s a lot of talk about ‘natural sugar’ these days. This is a silly phrase because, technically, almost all sugar is “natural” in regards to it originated in nature. I mean, white sugar was once a part of sugar cane, which is a plant, so it’s natural, right? Problem is, this nasty white stuff has been compeltely strripped of any and all nutrients and fiber so it is nutritionally void, and completely useless; the only things you are getting from it is cavities and diabetes. So you see, the phrase “natural sugar” is a misnomer, and quite misleading.. Other “natural sugars” you might see on labels, brown sugar (it's just white sugar with molasses added, still void of nutrients), fructose (not the kind from fruit), sugar alcohols (I’ll explain this below), and fruit juice concentrate (like white sugar, it has been stripped of any nutrients so pretty useless). An interesting thing to note about sugar alcohols is that many “low carb” foods contain sugar alcohols, which the manufacturer is not required to count as carbs, but these carbs still end up being absorbed by your body, can spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. But when you look at the nutrition label you see ZERO so you, as the consumer, think it’s sugar free! Be careful when looking at sugar content in food; just looking at the label doesn’t really cut it anymore, you’ve got to read ingredients. The safest way to avoided these added sugars of course is to eat as many whole foods as possible.
TIP #2: Dairy-intolerants beware
Let me preface this by saying, there is A LOT of of conflicting information out there about dairy. While that is not what I will explain here (I will let you draw your own conclusions about that!), it is important to know that more than 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, meaning that they lack the enzymes needed to process dairy properly. If consuming dairy gives you discomfort, it should be avoided. However, for those that can tolerate it, dairy does have many nutritional benefits, including protein and calcium, B12 and other vitamins. On an ingredient list, there are many forms of dairy you may not know about, and there could be some things making your tummy rumble because of these hidden ingredients. First on the list is the ever-popular whey. Whey, a derivative of milk, is a milk protein separated from the casein (another milk protein) when cheese is made. So while it is a protein (and used in many, many high protein foods like bars, powders, cookies, and even ice cream), it can cause some digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea…) if you are sensitive to dairy. Another hidden ingredient, as I mentioned above, is casein. This is another milk protein that can cause a bubbly tummy, and is used in many packages products. Lactose, another hidden dairy ingredient, is a milk sugar that is often the ultimate source of dairy discomfort for people. You can find lactose free milk, yogurt, and other items, but these items still have other milk derivatives in them. Some other not-so-well-known hidden dairy ingredients are artificial butter flavor, butter fat, butter oil, caseinates (ammonia, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium), ghee, half & half, hydrolysates (casein, milk protein, protein, whey, whey protein), kefir, koumiss, lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoglobulin, lactulose, milk (condensed, derivative, powder, dry, evaporated, lowfat, malted, non fat, protein, skim, solids, whole), milkfat, nougat, rennet casein, sour cream, and sour cream solids. Honestly, if whatever you are buying has this many ingredients you shouldn't be buying it anyway, but just be mindful of what your digestive system can handle and watch out for hidden dairy!
TIP #3: Look for real ingredients. HINT: “natural flavors” are not so natural...
Ever seen this on a label or even on the front of a packaged food item? Natural flavors sounds like it should be “all-natural” right? Yeah, very misleading… According to the Code of Federal Regulations from the FDA, the definition of natural flavor is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22). What the heck does that even mean??? Basically, these so called “natural flavors” are no safer or more healthy than their artificial counterparts. Natural flavoring, just like artificial flavoring, are made by flavor chemists in a laboratory that mix chemicals to create flavors; they can even be found in organic foods.. Yeah, not so natural now, huh? As the definition in the Federal Code says, these flavors can come from fruits, herbs or spices, but it can also come from meat parts, leftover dairy products, or from something as obnoxious as the sex glands of a beaver...I’m not lying. The ingredient “Castoreum” has been used for years in things like candies, drinks, puddings and to contribute to the flavor and odor of cigarettes. I tell you this gory, disgusting detail to drive home this crucial take-away: Be careful what you are purchasing. Whole foods are always better than packaged foods; but if you must purchase packaged food read the ingredients and make sure you recognize ALL of them on the label.