Hopefully, you’ve already read my first two articles: Food Labels 101: The Basics and Food Labels 101: Intermediate Tutorial and avidly peruse the grocery store aisles reading all the labels while making sound, optimal food choices. Nothing can stop you now! You probably are under the impression that because I am a nutritionist and having worked in food manufacturing for 7 years, I always know what’s lurking in the food I spend my hard earned dollars on. Well, I’m here to tell you that even a nutritionist and expert label reader gets fooled sometimes!
In recent years, I’ve noticed a trend toward more natural food, let’s call it the “real food movement.” Have you spotted the multitude of labels stating “all natural” at your local grocery store? With the advent of Whole Foods and the popularity of organic food, the food companies realize that they can make billions of dollars off the real food movement. The problem: sometimes they try to trick you into thinking something is all natural, made from real food ingredients or doesn’t contain any artificial additives when in reality, it contains ingredients you might not want in your food.
Let me start by distilling the myth that the term “all natural” on food labels actually means the product is made from all natural ingredients. There’s not a single regulation that companies have to meet to put that term on the label. It usually signifies a way for food companies to charge you more for their products. That’s it…nothing special or beneficial at all. Don’t be duped into spending your hard earned dollars on these deceptive foods! Instead, read your labels like we’ve learned in Part 1 and Part 2 to determine if the ingredients are really all natural.
I really do consider myself a virtuoso at reading and deciphering food labels of all types. Sometimes I just cruise the aisles of grocery stores picking up random items and read what ingredients they have. I rarely, if at all, purchase items with ingredients I consider artificial. I think the food manufacturers figured out people like me exist and used their artfully devious skills to create food labels that seem to say all natural, but really have adeptly hidden ingredients that I consider artificial. Remember from my first article, our bodies sometimes don’t know how to process these lab created non-food foods resulting in exacerbation of conditions like ADHD, IBS and other gut related conditions.
This happened to me twice very recently – let’s take a look at both these labels now.
The first product was Sugar-free Iced Bhakti Chai Toasted Coconut Almond Blend Tea. A friend turned me on to this drink while in Austin, Texas last year. It really tastes delicious and I got very excited when my local Whole Foods decided to start carrying it. I purchased 4 or 5 right on the spot when I saw it on the shelves. I didn’t read the label because I remember reading it in Austin and it listed only black tea, ginger juice, almond milk, coconut cream and spices as the ingredients. Sounds like a pretty clean list of ingredients right? Well, look closer…sure enough, those ingredients appear in a larger, bolder font ending with a period but if you look closely after the blank space, you’ll see a whole host of other ingredients in a much smaller font, 8 lines to be exact. I try to avoid some of these ingredients like: carrageenan which can damage intestinal cells (1), fortified vitamins because they usually come from a cheap source that our bodies don’t metabolize well and natural flavors because sometimes they’re made from not very natural things (2). For example, some manufacturers use an ingredient called castoreum to enhance a strawberry or raspberry flavor and list as “natural flavor” on the ingredient label. Castoreum comes from secretions of a gland near the tail of a beaver. I guess it sort of fits someone’s idea of natural but not mine! When you look at this product’s ingredient list as a whole, it’s simply not a product I would buy or recommend to others.
This next item – Califia Farms Unsweetened Pure Almondmilk – really made me mad, mostly because I recommended it to so many clients as a dairy alternative. I even went as far as emailing the picture to clients and family members so they would know what to look for at Whole Foods. First of all, the word “pure” on the label suckered me in to thinking it was real almond milk made only with almonds and water. That’s really all you need to make almond milk! Let’s look carefully, the first line of the ingredients lists: almond milk (filtered water, almonds) and it ends in a period so you think that’s all the ingredients. So for the longest time, I thought those were the only ingredients, easily qualifying as a minimally processed real food. But if you give it a careful examination, you’ll see another small blank line like in the chai tea above followed by 5 lines of other ingredients including the three unwanted ingredients used to make the chai tea. That pesky period and blank line fooled me again!!
One last thing, double check labels periodically for food you buy often. Just because a food passed your radar once, doesn’t mean it always will. Small boutique natural food processors get bought out all the time and are merged into large conglomerates. The first thing the big food companies do is look for ways to cut costs, which usually results in using cheap additives and fillers.
The moral of the story, food companies have become more savvy than ever! They know what we want and don’t want in our food and they’re not above deception to sell you a bill of goods while laughing their way to the bank! We need to be ever vigilant in our label reading to ensure that we consume the healthiest foods possible.
Have you been fooled by unscrupulous food labels? I want to hear your stories!
Now you’ve completed the entire label reading series!! I hereby grant you expert label reader status! Go forth, buy real food and achieve optimal health!