Decoding Ingredient Lists


What is your food hiding from you?

I am letting others in on the “truth”.  that “aha” moment when I realized that I had been fooled for so long!  After all, who doesn’t want to know what’s really in their food?

1. What do all of these ingredients mean? Most of these ingredients you can’t pronounce usually serve the following purposes: increase shelf life, add texture, colorant, flavor. If you’re looking to better understand a specific ingredient, I’d be happy to do a bit more research on it and email you my findings.

2. If the packaging says “organic,” then I don’t need to look at the ingredients right? Unfortunately, even organic food can be misinterpreted. Some foods are loaded with sugar, for example. Even if it’s organic, it may be best to take a look at the ingredients.

3. What about food in a can? Is it healthier? Food in a can should be looked at the same way as food in a package. It doesn’t hurt to look at the ingredients, and you’ll see right away if you’re dealing with something simple or a bit more processed. For example, you may think you’re buying a can of beans, but in some cases the ingredient list will show you that there is also added salt, flavoring, and perhaps other additives.

4. Are there particular brands that tend to be better for you than others? It’s hard to generalize by brand, because sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised to find that a mass brand has some options that contain few ingredients and few additives. However, based on my personal experience, when it comes to snack bars I tend to prefer raw food bars. I am always looking for new products to try as long as the ingredient list isn’t huge and I’m familiar with all the ingredients!

5. Can you talk a bit about hummus and how it can possibly be unhealthy? I can’t believe that! Well, real hummus is certainly very healthy. It’s made up of chickpeas, perhaps a little olive oil and perhaps a bit of sea salt. However, mass brands have added ingredients to make them more appealing on the shelf: for example, they’ve added preservatives to increase shelf life, as well as coloring to make the food stand out more (the color of hummus isn’t very “sexy” so some companies try to fix that), or often hummus will contain additional flavors. Rather than use real ingredients like garlic or peppers, it’s cheaper to use a much more processed “flavor” for that food.

6. You mentioned avoid most foods ending in ‘ose. What about cellulose? Great question. Cellulose is definitely an exception to my “ose” rule! Cellulose is the chemical name for fiber, which we know is an important component of diet, even though it doesn’t provide you with any vitamins, minerals or energy. It’s actually found in many whole foods.

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