|Currently drinking, Glaceau SmartWater. 4 ingredients for water.|
Ingredients lists can be like a frosted window. You know, those windows that you can kind of see through, but not really. Ingredients Lists are supposed to list the ingredients that are in the product, but check out the regulations provided by the FDA for Ingredients Lists. Why are there so many regulations? For example, "Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight" is one that makes sense to me. On the other hand though, many of them constitute the frosted part of the window including the well known debate over Natural Flavors and GMO.
Here in California during the 2012 Election, Proposition 37 "Prohibited labeling or advertising such food as natural." Such food is in reference to any food that has genetic material that has been altered. If you look at many food items, you will often see "Natural Flavors" which seems clear right? Well, nope. The proposition failed so natural flavors continues to mean that it could be the essence of a fruit but possibly altered either by being genetically modified or engineered.
That fight is not over and will continue on a larger scale, but how does this impact you the consumer directly? Well, say you are Gluten-Free? According to the "Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide" there are over 20 ingredients that you could see in an Ingredient List that means gluten is included yet very much disguised, e.g. Malt Vinegar. Vegetarian anyone? Animal products have aliases and you have to do your research to make sure you are not eating meat. For example, diglyceride's can be sourced either from vegetable or animals, particularly cows or hogs. They are additives to help bind things together that normally wouldn't, such as oil and water. But how would a vegetarian know if it's safe to eat? Unfortunately, you just don't know. The Vegetarian Resource Group provides an incredible guide for vegetarians, vegans, and meat eaters alike who want to learn more about specific ingredients and their sources.
So how does this look when grocery shopping? Well, if you are fortunate enough to shop only at Whole Foods, then your starting off on the right foot. Whole Foods has a list of Unacceptable Ingredients for Food which is quite lengthy, over 80 ingredients. Basically, they will not allow any of these products in their store. But what if your like me and my local grocery store is more convenient, affordable and overall more realistic?
Shopping tips to guide you...
1. If you cannot pronounce it, most likely it's not good for you.
- Sodium Alginate - Extracted from brown seaweed and with calcium can create a gel
- Dicalcium Phospate - Recommended to be used under the care of a medical professional
- Methylcellulose - not digestable.
2. Avoid any "Dyes" in the list, especially Red Dye #40 as it is tainted with known cancer causing agents.
3. Shorter the better - Some experts suggest avoiding foods with an ingredients list of 5 or more. What would they say about one with 45? Probably avoid at all costs.
Finally, back to those cereal bars...drum roll please.
IngredientsCRUST: WHOLE GRAIN OATS, ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, VITAMIN B1 [THIAMIN MONONITRATE], VITAMIN B2 [RIBOFLAVIN], FOLIC ACID), WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SOYBEAN AND/OR CANOLA OIL, SOLUBLE CORN FIBER, SUGAR, DEXTROSE, FRUCTOSE, CALCIUM CARBONATE, WHEY, WHEAT BRAN, SALT, CELLULOSE, POTASSIUM BICARBONATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, MONO-AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN, WHEAT GLUTEN, NIACINAMIDE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, CARRAGEENAN, ZINC OXIDE, REDUCED IRON, GUAR GUM, VITAMIN B6 (PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE), VITAMIN B1 (THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE), VITAMIN B2 (RIBOFLAVIN), FILLING: INVERT SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, CHERRY PUREE CONCENTRATE, GLYCERIN, SUGAR, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SODIUM ALGINATE, MALIC ACID, CITRIC ACID, METHYLCELLULOSE, DICALCIUM PHOSPHATE, CARAMEL COLOR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, RED 40
45 total ingredients, majority of which I cannot pronounce. Red 40. Highlighted ingredients look familiar?
As a consumer, you must use the resources available to you in order to make the best decisions. Don't be fooled by advertising and take the time to learn about Nutrition Facts and Ingredients Lists. They can be frosty sometimes but with these tips and helpful tools you now have the ability to see through a clear window.