Thursday, August 23, 2012

All Natural is a Joke

The problem: Labels lie!

The solution: Read the ingredients. 

Don't fall for the claims boasted on packaging. Healthy and all natural my fanny! The terms "healthy" and "natural" have absolutely no regulation or definition when it comes to the food industry, so they basically mean nothing. I could produce a completely artificial candy and claim it was all natural with no consequences.

I hate to be Debbie Downer here, but food companies are smart. They keep up on the hot trends and swoop in to profit from them. They know that people are starting to wake up and realize all this crap we are consuming is not good for us. So, they slap the word natural on the label and voila! Sit back and watch the profits sky rocket.

To figure out what's really going on with your corn flakes, all you have to do is flip the box over and read the ingredient list. This is one place where the companies can't lie. (Well, except by using terms like "natural flavoring," but that is a post for another day.)

Did you know that the ingredients are listed in order of quantity? For example, if the first ingredient is corn, the product is mostly corn. The rest are listed in descending quantities, so if the second ingredient is sugar and the last is salt, then you know there is more sugar than salt. You can get specific salt and sugar levels by reading the nutrition label.

Another trick they use is pseudonyms. For example, they know people are trying to cut back on sugar, so they call it something else. Dextrose, Sucrose, Fructose, Cane Syrup, Cane Juice, Maltodextrin, etc. This list goes on and on. One of the worst offenders is corn syrup, especially high fructose corn syrup. See my post on HFCS to find out why.

The easiest way to avoid all this nonsense is to simply not buy anything that has any ingredient your grandma would not have in her kitchen cabinets. We used to say no ingredients you can't pronounce, but the industry caught on and changed the ingredient names to sound less like chemistry class.

This isn't as hard as it sounds. Practice by reading the labels of what you already have in your kitchen. I bet you will be shocked by what is in at least a few of the products you thought you trusted. If you don't know what an ingredient is, Google it. The results might surprise you.

Try to shop in the produce and health food sections only. Avoid the middle aisles all together if you can because this is where most of the processed food is. You need to read ingredients in the health food section too.

Your first few shopping trips might be a little overwhelming. Leave yourself some extra time and maybe leave your spouse and kids at home so you can concentrate. If you are lucky enough to have a fancy phone, there are food additives apps that can help. It will get easier every time you go shopping.

Try to look at this as empowering instead of as another thing you have to find time for. You can take the power back over what your family eats. Shame on those corporations for trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Fight back. Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote for how you want to see the future.