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Funky Food Labels

Do you ever get confused by the labels on the foods you choose? I do, so I know you must. Let’s look at some principles for good label reading and then talk about what we want.

I think it is essential that you read and learn to understand the labels on the foods you eat. There will be a number of blog posts about label reading here, but I absolutely urge you to read every single label! I tell my clients, if you are unwilling or unable to read the label, don’t buy it, don’t eat it.

Why? You have the right and the responsibility to know what you are eating. If you don’t understand the label, you can even call or email the manufacturer to ask questions. But let me start with basic principles here.

First, you have to know your goals. What kinds of foods are you looking for? What do you want to avoid?

Second, take the front of the package with a proverbial grain of salt. This is the place where the manufacturer can present his product in the most advantageous way.

Now I am looking at one of my “favorite” labels. It calls itself apple butter fruit spread; the front of the label says it is sugar free and fat free.

So come with me to the back of the package, where the truth is told.
Somewhere you will find a black box titled “Nutrition Facts” and near it the list of ingredients. This is where the truth lies.

Ingredients are always listed on the label in decreasing order by weight. That means that whatever food is first on the list, is in greater proportion than those lower down. If there are parentheses, that means that the product before contains these ingredients. The next ingredient on the list outside the parentheses is the next one to look at.

Here is the ingredient list: “purified water, natural apple flavor, natural flavors, sucralose, citric acid, cellulose gel, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate (to preserve freshness).”

Notice anything missing here? APPLES? BUTTER? How can we have apple butter with no apples and no butter?

What is here? The main ingredient is purified water. The manufacturer flavored it with apple flavor (*) gelled it with cellulose gel (**) and xanthan gum (***), gave it tartness with citric acid, and sweetened it with sucralose (Splenda).

Now, I have to say I just do not want to pay apple butter money for apple butter that has no apples and no butter. This product is primarily water, gelled and sweetened and flavored to their liking.

The product is calorie free, but also nutrient free. The ingredients are very inexpensive, and some of them I do not want in my body.

What do you think of this? What do you want in your ingredient lists?

We will have more blogs on ingredient lists and label reading; please send me your questions and comments!



*According to Bob’s Red Mill, a natural flavor can be derived from almost anything, but has not been chemically manufactured. These ingredients are used to enhance the flavor of the food to which they are added.

**Cellulose gel is an indigestible fiber, often refined from wood pulp. It holds products in solution and thickens them.

***According to WebMD, “Xanthan gum is a sugar-like compound made by mixing aged (fermented) sugars with a certain kind of bacteria. It is used to make medicine. In manufacturing, xanthan gum is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in foods, toothpastes, and medicines.

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