Picture it: You, shopping for food in Anystore USA on Anyday of the week. You pick up a product you have been using for weeks, months, maybe even years. You put it directly into your shopping cart, confident that you have made a good choice. OR You, shopping for food in Anystore USA on Anyday of the week. You pick up a product that has a very “healthy-looking” label that screams all the great attributes of the product. You put it directly into your shopping cart, confident that you have made a good choice.
A great deal of money is spent on advertising – from the name of the company to the name of the product to the size, weight, and shape of the container. Then, the colors on the label to the pictures, and the words. All of this is designed to compel consumers to purchase their product. Grocery shopping isn’t usually the highlight of our lives. We shop on auto-pilot most of the time and rarely read the BACK of the package where there is more truth than on the front.
I don’t think that word means what you think it means!
“Natural” and “All-Natural” really don’t mean much, if anything. The FDA has no real rules to define what those words mean when describing food, ingredients, processing, or packaging.
“Light”, “Lite”, and “Healthy” are terms the FDA applies only to the fat content of a product. “Light” and “Lite” are used by some manufacturers to describe the color of a product. Foods that have a low fat content may be loaded with sugars or artificial sweeteners, such as cookies and snacks. Foods that have a high fat content may actually be healthy, such as avocado and nuts.
“Gluten-free” is an over-used buzzword. Many foods that never contained gluten are now advertised as “gluten-free”. This designation doesn’t mean that anyone with Celiac Disease is safe. The same goes for “Nut Free”, “Dairy Free”, or any other “free” related to food allergies or sensitivities. If the ingredient is not intentionally added to the product, it doesn’t have to be added to the list of ingredients. Processing plants and manufacturers are mandated to clean their equipment but there is no way to remove all the allergens. So, if a product has no mention of allergens or says “may contain”, it’s a good bet that there are allergens.
“Non-GMO”, “Organic”, etc. are words. It’s our job as the consumer to find the meaning.
Some labels announce great health benefits. “Made with real (juice, fruit, honey, etc)”, “naturally flavored”, “0% trans-fats”, “heart healthy”, “no salt”, “less sodium”, “vitamin fortified”, “no added sugar”, “excellent source of (vitamin, mineral, fiber, etc.), and so on are claims made on too many products. Credit for this amazing level of misdirection goes to the well-paid advertisers. Read the ingredients. Do the ingredients support the benefits hyped on the front of the label. Read between the lines? “Made with whole grain” may mean wheat, or corn, or rye, or barley, or oat – who knows?
Another misleading item on labels is portion size. Cereals typically show very large bowls of cereal – larger than the serving size listed on the box. Frozen meals often show an overflowing plate of food. Even though we know these are “not true to size”, we just don’t think it through.
Become an informed consumer – read and understand the labels.
Processed foods are not only unhealthy, they cause weight gain. There is less nutrition in processed foods, so we eat more to satisfy our nutritional needs eating far too many calories along the way. Artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners are chemicals. We wouldn’t consider buying these chemicals and adding them to our recipes. Thickening agents, preservatives, emulsifiers, etc are more chemicals. Humans were never meant to consume these substances. Manufacturers remove vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from “real” food during processing and then add them back artificially. Many of our foods are genetically modified so that pesticides, herbicides, growth enhancements, and disease and drought resistant elements are an inseparable part of the food. These chemicals and toxins damage our organs and alter our hormones causing weight gain.
The best way to a healthy diet is to eat foods that are not processed or minimally processed and to know the country of origin. It’s a new way of shopping and eating, but your quality of life depends on it.