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The Ingredient List

After the nutrition facts listing comes the ingredient list. This is a very important part of your analysis of the food label.

Food manufacturers use clever front-of-the-box claims, such as “heart healthy,” “whole grain” and “low-fat.” Many of those catch phrases come with a hitch: They don’t include the critical information detailed in the ingredient list. Just because a package boasts appealing qualities—think claims like “made with whole grains,” “zero trans fats,” “low-sodium” and “high fiber”—doesn’t mean it’s an all-around healthy food.

Don’t rely on the information on the front of the box. Always read the nutrition facts material on the back of the box. We have talked about the table for the last few weeks, now let’s look at the ingredients list.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. So, if strawberries appear as the first ingredient in strawberry jam, it’s safe to say there are more strawberries in the jar than anything else. But here’s where it can get tricky. Many ingredient lists include multiple variations of the same ingredient. If you add them together, that ingredient could actually be the largest one. For example, just because a version of sugar isn’t listed first doesn’t mean sugar isn’t the number one or two ingredient in that food product.

Sugar, sodium and saturated and trans fats have many names, some of which sound inviting. Sugar, for example, may appear as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, honey, molasses or any of the others on our sugars list, like glucose, fructose, maltose and galactose.

Therefore, you must check the ingredients list to identify the types of sugar in the product. The front label can claim “no sugar added,” yet the beverage or food can contain naturally occurring sugar from fructose in fruits or lactose in milk, as well as sugar in vegetables, cereals, grains, and legumes. This is fine. But it can also include added sugar alcohols, the more complex sugars, and other sugar like things that are not required to be listed in the Nutrition Facts label. It is voluntary to list the number of grams of sugar alcohols (polyols) or the more complex sugars per serving. So, we won’t be able to be sure how much sugar comes from our healthy foods like milk, and how much is from added sugars, like sorbitol. Four grams of sugar means 1 teaspoon of sugar, whether it is a carbohydrate healthy for you or not. When sugar alcohols are used as the sweetener, the product may be labeled “sugar-free” but the product may not be “calorie-free”.

Fat, too, has a few disguises, including lard, partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, tallow and shortening., coconut oil, peanut powder, and palm kernel oil.

The shorter the ingredient list, the safer the product is for you. Foods are listed in decreasing order by weight. If a group of ingredients are put into a parenthesis, that means that all those ingredients are part of the ingredient just before the parenthesis.

Look at the ingredient list pictured below.  The second ingredient is sugar.  The third ingredient is peanut butter. This peanut butter contains sugar, monoglycerides, molasses and cornstarch for a total of two sugars, a sugar modified, and a processed starch. The fourth ingredient is dextrose. That is sugar. Then we have corn meal, a kind of corn flour, and corn syrup, a kind of corn sugar. That is six kinds of sugar and two kinds of refined flours in the first five ingredients!

Looking at the Nutrient List pictured below, there are 30 grams of carbohydrate in this food-like product. Because all the sugar and flour products do not have to be listed with the sugars, there are more than 12 grams of sugar here. But even 12 grams sugar means a whole tablespoon of sugar in a cup of cereal. I would bet on another ten grams of sugar like foods – or 2 ½ more teaspoons that are not included.

This is not a food designed to keep us lean and strong. And it is sometimes hard to know what each ingredient actually is. Don’t be fooled by healthy-sounding ingredients“Wheat flour,” “brown rice syrup” and “palm oil” are just a few ingredients that sound more honorable than they are. Wheat flour is simply white or all-purpose flour — and therefore almost completely lacking in nutrients (look for whole wheat flour instead). Brown rice syrup is an alias for added sugar. And palm oil is a plant-based oil that delivers a heavy hit of saturated fat. And corn syrup is just that – corn sugar.

We deserve to have healthy foods in our lives and in our bodies. If you do not understand the ingredients on the label, if you cannot pronounce them or do not know what they look like or what they do, don’t buy the product. Choose something healthier.

Have a joyful week,

Blessings to you,



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