In the third issue of SHADES Magazine, you’ll find two new articles written by yours truly! The first focuses on nutrition labels and is actually Part II in a three part series. Check out the first part below, and click here to subscribe to SHADES so you can read the rest of our health-empowering series!
This issue also features an interview with a woman named Shirley Taylor, a teacher, mother, and ordained minister. Herstory (as in, a woman’s history) shines with inspiration. Subscribe now!
Part I of III: Never Read a Package by Its Cover
You’re walking down the aisle of your favorite grocery store, perusing the yummy boxed cereals, variety in every flavor, texture, color and packaging imaginable. How do you make your final decision? Most people think a wee bit about the contents of packaged food – and a whole lot about the price. Fair enough, with every American spending 12.4% of their paycheck on food, we’d better be sure it’s going to the right stuff!
A Pressing Epidemic
Taking a look at the big picture, the United States spends the highest percentage of its G.D.P on caring for ailing citizens. The only citizens in the industrialized world, by the way, who still don’t have federal health care (here we go, Obama!) Vulnerable to overpriced drugs and doctor visits, inundated with fast food joints, and sporting a 40% obesity rate, it’s fair to say the United States has a lot of work to do in the health game!
But there’s more to the saga, the sugar-pickled nuclear pink cherry on atop this cocktail of doom: The top three causes of premature death in the States are all related to poor diet and inactivity.
Woah! So guns, drugs, and even murders aren’t really the big dangers on the streets? That’s right, ladies and gents! The number one cause of premature death is preventable chronic disease – including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Many of these diseases come on as a result of poor nutrition and other lifestyle related risks – but not to worry, you don’t have to end up another statistic.
The Packaging Veil – Lifted!
As late as 1994, the US government passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, requiring food manufacturers to disclose nutrient and ingredient information on their packages. That being said, as any of us who’ve battled with label nomenclature can tell you, it’s not exactly easy to figure out what is and isn’t good for your health just by looking at the package. Without a dictionary of terms and a solid math foundation, most consumers feel utterly helpless in decoding the darned things!
Granted, food manufacturers (yes, manufacturers, not ‘providers,’ not ‘farmers’ – this is a money making industry, keep in mind!) are not allowed to straight out lie on the package. But they do use words in creative ways to monetize on fears, associations and trends of the day. The subtext on the front of a package of food is more like a dive bar come-on line than any statement of ‘truth’!
Rule #1: IGNORE THE FRONT OF THE PACKAGE!
Here is a list of commonly used terminology on packaged food products so you’ll never be fooled by devious marketers again:
- Natural’ or ‘pure’: Now here’s a crucial tip for the consumer who means well. These words may sound healthy, but they have no meaning in the world of nutrition whatsoever. Statements using these adjectives may connote health, but they say nothing about the food’s actual content or origin.
- “Made from.” This statement simply means the food started with this product. Many processes and additions could have occurred between the original ingredient and what lands in your box. Though some par t of the package could have started out having ‘whole grains,’ careful reading of the actual label may reveal those whole grains were then bleached and processed into ‘enriched bleached wheat flour.’
- “Made with” Whether it’s fruit, grains or vegetables, again, this only means that some of the ingredient was used. So if you’re buying juice ‘made with pomegranate – there could be .02% of the product which actually contains pomegranate, the rest of it could be anything. Don’t buy ‘fruit drinks,’ either – this could simply mean the flavor of the drink is fruity, and contains no fruit whatsoever!
- “Fat free” means that five percent of the total weight of the food is fat – which could still mean that you’re getting 25% the calories in that serving from fat.
- “Enriched” is a tip-off that something unhealthy was done to the food, requiring another process to put some of the good stuff back in. Enriched flour or enriched white bread are not as healthy as their whole wheat counterparts.
- The terms “organically grown,” “organic,” pesticide-free,” “all natural,” and “no artificial ingredients” say very little about the nutritional value or safety of the product. Trust only labels that say “certified organically grown.” These are the only words that mean the food was grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in soil free of these substances.
- “Fresh” means unprocessed, uncooked, unfrozen (for example, fresh or freshly-squeezed orange juice). Coating of fruits and vegetables with chemicals is allowed.
- “Healthy” means the food may contain no more than 3 grams of fat (including one gram of saturated fat) and 60 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. The food must also contain 10 percent of the daily value of one of these nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber. “Healthy” individual foods must contain no more than 300 milligrams of sodium; prepackaged meals can’t exceed 480 milligrams. There is no limit on the sugar content in “healthy” food.
- “Lean” means fewer than 10 grams of fat, four grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams of a food.
- “Good source” means a serving must contain 10 to 19 percent of the daily value of a particular nutrient (e.g., vitamin A).
- “High” iron, for example, means the serving contains 20 percent or more of the recommended daily value of this nutrient.
- “Energy” drinks, for example, refers to any product that contains calories. Just about any drink, except water, could meet that definition.
- “(Not)From concentrate.” Has no nutritional implication whatsoever. This simply means that the water was removed to make it cheaper to transport and store. Of course, the fresher the juice, the better the taste!
- “Light” ice cream, for example, may still pack in 4 to 5 grams of fat per serving. And “light” and “regular” varieties of ice cream may not differ much calorically.
Those are just a few of the alluring words you may find on the front of that package of cookies or soup. Talk about tricky!
Always keep in mind, especially in America, most food companies are looking out for their bottom line. It’s up to you as the consumer to outsmart their marketing team – and you can do this by skipping the front of the package and going straight to the black and white label. Just the facts, ma’am.
We’ll show you how to decode the label In Part II of our three part series: Decoding Nutrition Labels.