Last week Naturally Savvy hosted a fantastic Twitter Party to teach strategies for reading food labels and ingredient lists! We had the pleasure of gate-crashing and offering our two cents to this incredibly informed and well-run chat. We came away inspired to promote label literacy here on the Thrive Health blog.
While there were plenty of label-savvy participants at the party (and some very qualified, awesome hosts and sponsors!) some of the parents present admitted that they don’t really know what to look for when reading food labels, or often neglect to read labels at all. This is very normal. Firstly, we’re all incredibly busy, and nobody wants to double their grocery store time by reading the finely printed ingredient lists on everything they pick up. Secondly, many parents don’t skip the ingredient list out of a willful negligence of nutrition- they are led to trust a product by many other factors that make an impression on shoppers long before the label. Food packaging can trick us into thinking we’re making an informed, “good” choice.
Here are some of the packaging ploys that lead us to believe something is healthy without reading its ingredient list.
Just because a product is fat-free or sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. At all. In fact many products that have been chemically engineered to be free of fats and sugar have other unhealthy modifications. These products may still contain synthetic flavours, artificial colours, artificial sweeteners, thickeners and more. Additionally, foods that boast a “fat free” claim uphold a societal misconception about fats- that they are all dangerous, unhealthy, or contribute to being overweight. In reality, healthy fats are vital to a balanced diet, and for maintaining a healthy weight.
Made with real…
If a food product is bragging that it’s made with real fruit, vegetables or any other ingredient, beware. This is a clever way of getting around the fact that it’s also made with many other ingredients that are not real. Made “with” is not the same as “made up solely of…” By this tactic, a fruit punch containing only 25% real fruit juice can still claim “Made with real fruit!” Unless you see a “100%” check your label to see how much of a product is indeed “real.”
Lots of food products contain claims about their nutritional quality right in their name. But just because something claims to be “smart” “healthy” “light” or “natural” doesn’t mean it’s a nutritionally balanced or beneficial choice. The worthiness of a product can’t be found in its name- it can only be found on that food label.
So what are the top food label culprits?
High-fructose corn syrup: This is a widely used sweetener that appears in many packaged foods especially sweet treats for children. It boosts calorie content, functions as a thick, concentrated sugar substance, and offers no nutritional value to a food product. Avoid low / no calorie alternatives especially if they contain artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners like stevia and honey are a better choice.
Artificial flavours: Naturally Savvy makes a great point about artificial flavours: they could contain anywhere from one to fifty different chemical ingredients. Our thought? Why combine dozens of synthetic chemicals to mimic a real, natural flavour? There are so many delicious flavours and colours found in natural foods that there’s no reason to chemically manipulate our tastes.
Nitrates/Nitrites: Typically written as sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite, these are most commonly found in processed and packaged meats. The alternative to using these products is buying fresh chicken or turkey, cooking it in whatever manner you prefer and slicing it up to use in salad form (ie. Chicken salad) or in sandwiches over the following few days.
MSG: Monosodium glutamate is a commonly-used additive in many packaged foods, especially soups, sauces, prepared meals, and frozen foods. As with many of our food culprits, the easiest way to avoid MSG is to try and limit your consumption of pre-packaged foods. If you can’t avoid buying prepared foods, buy them fresh rather than frozen.
If you have any food label questions, drop us a line here, or on our Facebook page –we love to help families make informed choices. Happy (and healthy) grocery shopping to you!More