In this installment of Know Your Food Label, Part 6 the “Ingredients” section of the nutrition label will be discussed. It would be a challenge to attempt to review every ingredient listed in the food label pictured above. It’s tragic that there are so many ingredients in this particular food label. If you want to take charge of your health you will need to take the time to read through the food labels. Here are some general tips to help you navigate through the mud of ingredients:
- Ingredients are listed in order of quantity. The ingredients that weigh the most are listed first and in descending order thereafter.
- Common ingredients are often substituted by not such common names. Usually the names are long and difficult to pronounce. As an example in Part One of Know Your Food Label we learned that partially hydrogenated oil or hydrogenated oil is substituted for trans fat. Also, salt can be hidden as other ingredients such as sodium nitrite or monosodium glutamate(MSG). Yet still another example is sugar. Sugar is often substituted as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, cane juice or honey, to name a few.
- A variety of ingredients have specific functions in foods. They can be categorized according to their role:
- Preservatives serve to preserve and avoid spoilage. Ever wonder why a food product can last for months in your cupboard?
- Flavorings can be natural or artificial spices or sweetners that are used to enhance taste.
- Additives are used primarily to provide food certain types of texture. Additives come in the form of emulsifiers, leavening agents, thickeners and stabilizers.
For a comprehensive list of what the food industry is required to list on food packages visit the United States Food and Drug Administration’s website at fda.gov.
The takeaway point is that if you have health challenges or food intolerances you need to read the ingredients label, you need to know exactly what it is that you are eating. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, you should research it. A simple tip to follow is to eat foods with five ingredients or less. Avoid or limit processed foods whenever possible. Processed foods are generally found in a box, plastic bag or can. When you go shopping try to avoid the foods in the middle of the grocery store. It is there you will find packaged and processed foods. Ideally, opt for whole and fresh foods. In most grocery stores, the outer perimeter is where you will find whole foods such as lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
by Marjorie Binette, MD