Are your health conscious food labels making you fat?
It’s not easy being a consumer. It seems like every trick in the book is used to get you to buy a product. We often make a purchase based on colorful and well designed packaging, great marketing and research on the latest and greatest (super)foods we MUST have, and labels announcing health claims. In the end it’s often a game of label trickery, and we The Consumers, are often getting the short end of the stick.
How many times do you go to the store and find foods that say they are ‘fortified’, ‘enriched’, or have ‘added’ this or that? As enticing as this may sound, these claims generally mean the food has been altered or processed in some way. Bread labels scream “Made with Whole Grain”, and while that may reflect that there is some whole grain in the package, most likely it’s amongst a bunch of refined grain and corn flour. Select “100% Whole Grain” instead. “Made with Real Fruit” typically means there is a small amount of real fruit in the product, but quantities aren’t regulated by the FDA. As well, it often isn’t even the same fruit that you see pictured on the label. “Lightly Sweetened”, also not regulated by the FDA, can contain anywhere from 1 gram of sugar to over 100 grams. While a better option may be to look for “No Sugar Added” which is FDA regulated, you still need to be a good label reader. “No Sugar Added” may still contain sugar derivatives or sugar substitutes which are just as toxic and can have as many calories as table sugar but be more harmful. “A Good Source of Fiber” implies that the item has fiber in it, but often it is ‘fortified’. Not all fiber is created equal, and the fiber added may not be as beneficial as the fiber you receive from whole foods. Let’s not forget the dreaded MSG (monosodium glutamate). Known as the miracle flavor enhancer, MSG is a neurotoxin and is harmful to brain cells. Packaging can claim “No MSG Added” and still contain ingredients that contain MSG such as yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, sodium caseinate, hydrolyzed protein, yeast food, yeast nutrient, calcium caseinate, gelatin, glutamate, textured protein, and torula yeast.
Here’s the skinny, and the fat truth, on many of the most confusing labels:
Most often refers to egg laying hens. The hens are raised without using cages, but they may still live inside large barns and warehouses, in unsanitary conditions, unable to move more than a few inches due to over crowding.
Free Range/ Free Roaming:
Poultry MUST have outdoor access. The USDA considers 5 minutes of open air access adequate for use of free range labeling. If you can buy from a farmers market/your local farmer, you will most likely have a more humanely raised product than from a corporate sponsored farm.
There is ‘Grass Fed Beef’ and ‘Grass Finished Beef’. ‘Grass Fed Beef’ are cattle that have eaten only eaten grass or forage throughout their lives. Most cattle are fattened in the last 90-120 days of their lives on grain. However “Grass Finished Beef” would mean that the cattle may have had a diet of grain, but the last period of it’s life it was fattened on grass. Why is grass better than grain? While most of the grain is genetically altered making cows fat fatter (and us as well), grain finished cows lake nutrients like CLA (conjugated linoleic acid – a potent cancer fighter shown to support weight loss) and omega 3’s . Look for Grass Fed and Pastured Beef (meaning the cattle lived in pasture rather than in a small confined feed lot).
Naturally Raised Meat:
The USDA requires that the livestock carrying this claim were raised without growth promotants and most antibiotics and that they’ve never eaten animal by products
Poultry and red meat has been raised without antibiotics.
Hormones are not allowed to be used on pigs or poultry, therefore label claims of “No Hormones Added” on these products are redundant and used only for marketing purposes to catch your eye as a consumer. Conversely, hormones can be added to beef, so make sure to look for organic, grass fed, and hormone free beef.
rBST free/rBGH free:
rBST and rBGH are genetically engineered hormones used to boost milk production in cows. These labels are often seen on milk and cheeses. These genetically engineered hormones are suspected of being linked to cancer in humans. Banned in other countries, buy hormone free foods.
Omega 3 enriched:
Eggs enriched with these healthy Omega 3 fats come from hens fed a diet of fortified foods rich in essential fatty acids like flaxseeds.
Fresh Foods with this label must meet standards created by the USDA national organic program that verify that they’ve been grown and processed without the use of toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and synthetic growth hormones. On produce look for the number 9 first on the sticker which signifies organic. Produce that is labeled organic is 100% organic. Packaged foods that are ‘organic’ contain MOSTLY organic ingredients, but that label doesn’t mean it’s a health food. Cookies labeled Organic are still cookies!!
Certified Naturally Grown:
Often used by smaller farms the follow the USDA organic methods and sell locally. This non profit label program does away with the high cost and the mountains of paperwork required to obtain USDA certified organic labeling.
This term ensures that farmers and workers in the developing world are paid fair, above market prices for their products and labor. Buying Fair Trade also helps preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations. Look for this label on coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, cocoa, honey, and imported commodities.
A seed developed, saved, and passed down through generations of farmers through years of cultivation. Most heirloooms are varieties that have been around for at least half a centurey. Heirloom plants are genetically distinct from typical commercial varieties.
This label identifies fruit and vegetables allowed to ripen on the vine instead of being shipped long distance while still hard and unripe.
Irradiated foods have been shown to cause a myriad of health related troubles in test animals. Irradiation leads to mysterious chemical compounds that have not been identified or studied for the potential harm to humans. These products are free radicals which set off a chain reaction in the body that destroys antioxidants, cell membranes, and pollutes the liver. Irradiation destroys vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and essential fatty acids. This method of food preservation treats foods with ionizing radiation from Cobalt 60, Cesium 137, X-rays, or high energy electron beams from machine sources. Other terms commonly used to identify ionizing irradiation are ‘cold pasteurization’ and ‘irradiation pasteurization’. Often seen on the labels of spices.
“Natural” or “Made From Natural” implies that the manufacturer started with a natural source. The term natural is very loose and once the food is processed, it may not resemble anything natural at all.
‘Low Fat’, ‘Calorie Free’, ‘Reduced’, and ‘Diet’ all mean one thing: PROCESSED! Often the processing of food renders them toxic, unrecognizable, and un-assimilable in our bodies.