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Always Read the Fine Print: The Importance of Food Labels

Apr 11, 2015 BY Kate McDonald Walker

Note from Joy: Reading your food labels is super important to ensure you are eating "clean" food. But want to know a secret to decoding nutrition labels? Avoid them! What I mean by that is... buy single-ingredient food as often as possible. Apples, eggs, fish, almonds do not have "ingredient labels". When you do find yourself buying packaged food, keep Kate's tips in mind. Happy Read Your Labels Day! Yeah, I know, it probably doesn’t sound like the most exciting day of the year, but it is super important from a health perspective. If you’re not reading the whole label, you’re not getting the whole picture. And food labels can be more than just confusing, they can be downright sneaky. Here are some things to look out for:

Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats)

Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils gives them a longer shelf life and makes them solid at room temperature. Unfortunately, this process also creates artificial trans fats, and these artificial trans fats are considered by most of the medical community to be “the worst type of fat you can eat.” Even if the front of the box says that the product has no trans fats, you still need to read the nutritional information label and check both the fats section for trans fats and the ingredients list for hydrogenated oils. In Canada, if a food contains less than 0.2 grams of trans fats per serving, it can still call itself “trans fat–free

Added Sugar

We consume an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. And the biggest problem with processed foods full of extra sugar is that those sugars are often there to flavour food that is nutrient poor on its own. This means we’re getting tons of sugar we don’t need, but we’re not getting many of the nutrients our body desperately does need to help us process those additional calories. Sugar’s the spy gone rogue of the nutrition world. It goes by many different names and can be tough to recognize even when you’re looking right at it. Look out for sorbitol, mannitol and anything ending in “-ose” (e.g., glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, etc.).

BHA and BHT

Both of these are antioxidant preservatives. Wait, aren’t antioxidants good? Why are they on the list? While the FDA has declared BHA and BHT “generally recognized as safe,” other agencies aren’t so sure. The National Toxicology Program believes that BHA “is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and some studies have shown that BHT may promote tumor growth and disrupt hormones. Your best bet here is to avoid packaged foods that use preservatives, or stick to ones that use natural preservatives like vitamin E.

Brominated Vegetable Oil

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) helps oily flavouring agents (usually citrusy ones like orange or lemon) stay mixed through a beverage, rather than sitting on top. BVO is also part of the same family as flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ether, which have been linked to hormone disruption, brain development issues in children, fertility concerns and thyroid issues. In the 1970s, the FDA changed BVO’s status from “generally recognized as safe” to “interim,” which meant it could be used until further studies were done to determine its safety. We’re still waiting for those studies to be done.

“Flavour”

Flavours are among the most common food additives, with “natural flavours” appearing in about a quarter of packaged foods and artificial flavours appearing on one in seven food labels. The problem with these flavour additives lies in their vagueness on food labels. These flavours are often considered “incidental additives,” which means manufacturers don’t have to disclose all their components, and there could be over 100 distinct substances in that one flavour listing. Those substances could be perfectly innocuous, or they could be something you’re sensitive to. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure unless companies are required to list each individual component of the flavouring agent. The easiest way to avoid all these additives would be to avoid buying packaged and processed foods altogether. However, for times when you do have to buy packaged foods, take the time to read your labels so you know exactly what you’re eating, because you may be getting more than you bargained for. Let’s make every day Read Your Labels Day!

Apr 11, 2015 BY Kate McDonald Walker
2 Comments
Abby Seamus   •   April 13, 2015

When you start looking you realise trans-fats are in soo much food they really are very hard to avoid. I tend to make my snacks now instead of buying them so I can avoid transfats and added sugars, when will food manufacturers realise we don't want that stuff in our food x

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Barbara Arbster   •   April 14, 2015

Over the past few years I've started paying more attention to the food labels. I have always been confused with items that contain 'natural flavor' but they never really say what it is. Another confusion with the trans fats oils. Usually the first thing I look for is sugar grams. If it is high in sugar then it goes back on the shelf. Great info....thank you.

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