Happy Wednesday ya’ll! Gosh why does that Southern accent always come out when I write these things? Trust me, I live in Iowa not the south. I’ll work on that. Anywho, welcome back to Wellness Wednesday. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is in regards to the food label. How does one define healthy via the food label? What should one look for on the label to make it acceptable? While these are all great and valid questions, I think we need to take a deeper look at the truth in the food label and why I NEVER read it.
With the recent announcement that things are heating up in Washington in regards to food labeling, which would be the first major change in 20 years (1), it solidifies why currently the food label means nothing. In fact, the law has a pretty lax margin of error at 20% without penalty (2). That means a 100 calorie food could technically really have 120 calories in it. And I’m not concerned because of dieters but rather this is greatly unfortunate for many who really need to know carbohydrate grams or sodium due to health reasons alone.
Unfortunately as consumers, we are drawn to health claims. We are quite demanding in fact. The majority of us want to be healthy but yet we also want it to be convenient. The problem is more people error towards the side of convenience rather than health and thus why the food industry so easily persuades us with health claims. Health claims such as “heart healthy” or “made with real fruit” are incredibly misleading and most of the time false. This just leads people to believe they are choosing healthy foods when you’re really not, making it more difficult to understand and read food labels.
Let’s take for instance the claim “made with real fruit.” Just because a bottle of juice or a box of fruit snacks has a picture of fruit on the label does not mean it contains fruit. As the Huffington Post recently reported, “Betty Crocker’s Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers claim to be made of real fruit, but contain no strawberries whatsoever, and are actually made from pear concentrate, red no. 40 dye and are almost half sugar by weight (3).” Doesn’t that scream problem to you?
Five reasons why you shouldn’t read the food label.
- Not all calories, fat grams, sodium, etc are created equal – Let’s be honest we can all agree that an avocado is not as bad as a donut even though they both have 21 grams of fat.
- The nutrition facts label doesn’t distinguish between real and added or artificial ingredients. This is the basis of the new food fight in Washington over labeling and distinction of natural sugar to added sugar on the food label. Campbell’s has been quoted saying “We don’t need to inform the public”, and that “making a distinction risks dangerous confusion (4).” Confusing, really? Isn’t it more confusing now rather than spelling it out for us. The problem, the food industry just doesn’t want us to know.
- Reading nutrition facts labels is too close to dieting for comfort. – It just gives reason and numbers to allow people to count things and try and track their food intake via numbers. Unfortunately this doesn’t do a lot of good for many reasons.
- Labels promote processed foods, counting calories, fat etc. Remember, food scientists are smart people. They DO have the ability to make processed foods what the consumer wants and to fit into the latest diets and fads. Hence why we have so many new “foods” enter the market every year.
- Real foods don’t contain nutrition facts labels – enough said.
If I was ever going to look at anything on a label, it would be grams of sugar. Even though it doesn’t distinguish real from added, quantity of this one still stands apart. The problem with sugar is that it is no longer contained to candy and ice creams. It is now in EVERYTHING. Watch out for this, the more sugar the worse it is (5).
HOW do we make healthy choices amongst this madness?
First and foremost, buy fresh whole foods that don’t contain nutrition labels at all. This makes it quite simple. When you do buy foods with a nutrition label, don’t pay attention to health claims, base your decision solely on the ingredients list and that list alone. The ingredients list is located right underneath the nutrition facts panel. This states everything that is in the food from highest concentration to lowest, which is a great indicator of how healthy the food is. Some good ideas to follow when reading labels are to avoid foods with exceptionally long lists of ingredients, as well as those that contain unfamiliar additives, preservatives and artificial flavors and/or colors.
My rule, if you can’t walk into the grocery store and buy that specific ingredient, say MSG then you probably shouldn’t be eating it. If it sounds like it belongs in a chemistry lab, it probably should have stayed there. Watch out for nasty food ingredients and additives. It DOES matter to your body.
Choose to eat real, whole, living food and forget the food label. Remember, the food industry doesn’t care about your health, take your health into your own hands and choose to EAT TO LIVE!