Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Finding your way through the Labels!

Dieting, trying to eat healthy, or just shopping for the week, grocery shopping in the U.S. can be a real headache! We fought for options in what we buy and industry unloaded on us.
Take salad dressing for example, you have your choice between 6-7 non-organic brands and 4-5 organic brands. Each brand has at least 6 to a dozen options between vinaigrette, mayo based, low fat, fat free, sweet, savory, creamy, or natural. You have your choice of single serve, small, medium, spray, pour, squeeze... Have your eyes crossed yet?!
The point is that the food industry's creativity has almost optioned us out of even caring. Who hasn't just thrown their hands up and said, "I don't care.. what's cheaper?" Well, guess what.. the clean, fresh ingredients aren't usually the guys having the sale.
I have compiled some articles and helpful hints from those researchers who get their thrills from wading through the swamp of labels. I hope this post helps you on your next grocery store visit! Happy, healthy shopping!!

Read the ingredients not just the title.
The Journal of Consumer Reports found that dieters and those concerned about what they are eating are more likely to fall into the "name trust trap" more than their non-diet counterparts. For example, the "dieters" would rather have an item with "salad" in its name than "pasta"..."Instead, dieters need to focus on reading nutritional information on food products and restaurant menus." 
Front of the package labeling is all marketing, ignore it and turn the box. Be aware of health claims or nutrient claims like "added calcium" or "low fat", they may have just counterbalanced it with more sugar or salt. Pay attention to serving sizes and finally.. really?.. Do you want to eat ingredients that you can't pronounce? Fooducate Blog has created a list that would take me way too long to reproduce, so I'll just give it to you here: 16 ways to Improve Nutrition Labels. Enjoy!

If you heard it then it must be true....
Small Bites comes right to the point and even titles their article "Nutrition Lies and the Lying Food Industries that Tell Them". It points directly at the four big industries: beef, dairy, soda, and cereal and how they will stop at nothing to sell their product.
Ever heard: "..three to four servings of dairy foods a day may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases such as hypertension and obesity.." surprise!.. it was funded by the dairy industry. While it isn't a lie it does leave out the small fact that milk is not your only source of calcium nor does dairy provide all of the nutrients that you should be taking in each day.
"Lean meats, eggs, and dairy products are considered complete high-quality sources of protein .. needed to stimulate muscle growth and improve weight management...". Yes, beef industry, but did you know that you can get protein from other sources? Lentils and other beans, whole grain oatmeal, whole wheat bread and quinoa are just a few of the other items that can carry quite the punch of protein as well.

Two items, two prices.. is one really better?
Organic or not? and if so... do I buy it for everything or just produce? And what chicken walks around with parts that big--seriously, wouldn't that be the same argument as Barbie would topple over with those measurements???
Business Week answers the curious consumer directly. They suggest that for children and pregnant women" going organic whenever possible for fruits and vegetables that carry the heaviest pesticide load makes sense. When it comes to meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, buying organic becomes more of an ethics consideration. "the growth hormones found in cattle are virtually the identical to what cows naturally produce...". There is some concern over the milk from treated cows and increase cancer risk.
For those interested, there is a "dirty dozen" (fruits and vegetables that are worth paying organic prices for) and the "clean 15" (fruits and vegetables that had little to no trace of pesticides when tested) lists can be found with a search or below I have pasted a "YES! organic/maybe organic/You do't have to" list below from Eating Well.

Preferably Organic —Most Commonly Contaminated*

If Budget Allows, Buy Organic

It’s Your Call —Least Commonly Contaminated

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Summer Squash
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes - Domestic
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Cauliflower
  • Tangerines
  • Bananas
  • Winter Squash
  • Cranberries
  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potato
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms
*Listed in order of pesticide loadSource: Environmental Working Group. Go to for updates. Updated June 2011.

  • organic - standards set by the US Department of Agriculture on how food is grown. Ex: farmers use crop rotation and spread mulch or manure instead of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • all natural, free range, and hormone free - if a product uses these terms, it has to be truthful, but these terms do not mean organic.
  • genetically modified - We have been doing this for years, but some things have changed in the last few years. No longer are the plants being modified by cross-breeding to make them easier to grow, now plants and animals are genetically modified (GM) for allergies, nutrients, size, and weed/insect resistant. There is no evidence that GM is necessarily harmful.. but is it safe? How can you avoid GM foods by WebMD. If this makes a difference in what you buy, check this site out to find out exactly what is on your food. (What's on my Food?)

The tools for your next shopping trip:

  • Read the ingredients - is it too long for comfort? can you pronounce the ingredients? can you find the ingredients on a farm?
  • Know who is behind the commercials or reports you read
  • Organic vs non-organic, the choice is yours, but know what to expect from each category: Decoding the label: "100% organic" = completely organic or made from completely organic ingredients; "Organic" = at least 95% organic; "Made with organic ingredients" = contains at least 70% organic ingredients (USA FDA)

Some articles to make you think:
- A snack bar is a treat not a meal replacement: Zone Perfect Introduces New Bar by Fooducate
-Weight Watchers demotes vegetables and fruits to "0 points"... but can you actually find their ingredients?: Weight Watchers Smart Ones Entrees by Fooducate
-Packaging nature "All Natural Foods" by Food Renegade
- Understanding what you want or controlling what you buy... Trends in Supermarket Packaging and Logos by Suite 101
-Sometimes, it goes too far... Genetically Modified Cows to Produce Human Milk