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Monday, January 2, 2012

Reading Your Food Ingredient Labels

Have you been reading your ingredients?

When I lived overseas, I couldn't read the labels on anything I bought. Consequently, I was often surprised to find that I had bought, say, red bean flavored ice cream instead of chocolate for example. Most of the time, I stuck to the simple stuff, like rice, noodles, and the fresh produce section.

I'm not sure I want to know what flavor this is....

Upon my arrival back to the U.S.A., when I could read the writing again, I was bombarded with claims on the front of every packaged food item at the grocery store. "Naturally Flavored" ginger ale and lemon-lime soda. "Fat Free" gummy bears. Everything was making some sort of health claim. I was appalled that all of these junk foods were claiming to be healthy, because I was also seeing that the majority of people at the grocery store were being duped! How's a person without a degree in nutrition to sort through it all?

Well, one easy way is to pick up that box/bag/carton, turn it around, and read that ingredient list. The ingredient list cannot legally lie to you.

But what am I looking for? You ask.

Well, for one thing, did you know that the ingredients are listed in order of amount? For example, if you buy a fruit snack that says "made with real fruit", but sugar is the first or second ingredient on the list, and the fruit is listed somewhere near the bottom, then you've really just bought and consumed mostly sugar with a little juice to make it marketable.

So, read those first few ingredients, and see if that's what you want to be made out of, if you really "are what you eat".

Whole wheat baked goods can fool you, too. Unless they are made with 100% whole wheat, you're getting mostly white flour with some whole wheat flour thrown in to make it look a little healthier. If you see "wheat flour" as an ingredient instead of "whole wheat flour", than you may want to try another brand.

Hydrogenated oils tend to lurk in cheap convenience foods at the grocery store, despite the fact that more and more studies are showing that they contribute greatly to heart disease and a number of other illnesses.

Finally, as you become more aware of the chemicals, preservatives, and artificial colors listed in your ingredient lists, you just might be encouraged to put that box back on the shelf and go for some whole, nutritious foods like fresh fruits and veggies and real whole grain baked goods. (Maybe even some real butter, too!)

Here's one final tip for you:
Read the ingredient list at the grocery store, before you buy an item. I know that I am not likely to just let a food go to waste once it's at my house and paid for. I find it much easier to resist eating things that are bad for me if I just don't bring them in the house.
It takes a little longer to shop this way, but consider it time well invested.

I challenge you to do some research on some of these ingredients you're seeing. Some that sound scary really aren't so bad, but some, like one I found in my soy sauce, are known to be cancer causing.

I'll tell you what that ingredient is on Friday.

This post was shared at Simple Lives Thursday.

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