Even if you are growing your own food, you still need to get some ingredients from the shops and various suppliers. We all know how important is checking the label nowadays. Couple of recent food scandals hopefully opened a few more eyes to how ruthless the food industry is. Let’s look a little closer on some examples of misleading labelling we should be aware of. Most of them will appear to mean a healthy choice, but in fact the reality is quite different…
‘Natural‘ or ‘All natural’: it seems that the FDA has not defined it officially, so there is a lot of room for interpretation and maneuver when it comes to the ingredients, including added preservatives or sodium. The worrying fact is that a lot of people still think that ‘natural’ is better/greener than ‘organic’.
‘Multigrain’: it means nothing more than a few varieties of grains. You need to bear in mind that the bread colour alone does not guarantee wholegrain. Sometimes a caramel is used to darker the bread, while it is made with white (processed) flour. You need to look for 100% whole grain(s) foods.
‘No added sugar’: apart from some products containing natural sugars which need to be taken in consideration by people on low-sugar dietary requirements, some substances such as maltodextrin can still be added. As they are also carbohydrates they will have a very similar effect on our bodies, i.e. raising blood sugar.
‘Sugar free’: this slogan does not mean that the product will have less calories than a standard version, as they would still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources, as well as fats. Additionally, they often contain sugar alcohols which are commonly combined with high intensity artificial sweeteners to counter the low sweetness. Consumption of sugar alcohols will affect blood sugar levels and may also cause bloating and diarrhea when consumed in excessive amounts.
‘Zero/No transfats’: there is an allowance of 0.5 g per serving to be present, therefore it is always best to double check the list of ingredients.
‘Fat free’: it does not mean healthy or low calories. Those products sometimes contain nearly as many calories as full-fat versions, with a lot of artificial ingredients added and substantial amount of sugars.
‘Light’: the fist impression would be that the product is ‘lighter’ on calories, however this term is often used to describe the flavour. To be considered a light variety it would need to have 50% less fat content compared with the original version of the product.
‘Made with real fruit’: those products may contain very little or none of the type of the fruits which is featured on the box. While companies have to provide list of ingredients and the amount of nutrients they contain, including proteins, fat and cholesterol, they do not have to disclose the percentages of ingredients, such as fruits and whole grains.
‘Lightly sweetened’: another example of a promotional slogan that just sounds good, but has not been defined by the FDA.
‘Serving size’: this is the amount of the product that is used when the nutritional value and amounts are provided. It is always worth re-calculating to the actual (your) serving size, as the amounts used sometimes are highly unrealistic and therefore misleading.
Below are some examples of widely used ingredients with more or less common names which don’t tell us much about their origins. It is important to educate ourselves to be able to make a conscious choice whether we wish to continue consuming them with our food.
Silicon Dioxide: also known as silica, it is the main chemical compound of sand. It is commonly used as an additive, such as E551 (in Europe) anti-caking agent. The FDA recommendation states that it cannot exceed 2% of the food’s weight. It can be found in processed meat, spice powders, instant soups, sauces, snack bars, supplements, pharmaceutical drug tablets and a lot of other products.
Borax: also known as birax, sodium borate, or sodium tetra-borate is a crystalline compound that is the sodium salt of boric acid. The mineral is used to keep mice, bugs, ants and mold away, also as a multipurpose cleaner, fire retardant, fungicide, herbicide and food preservative (!). Borax is banned as a food additive (E285) in the US, but it is allowed in some imported foods, including caviar. The substance is legal in the EU and Asia.
Gelatin: this flavorless and translucent substance may be used as a stabilizer, texture enhancer or thickening agent in foods. The active element of gelatin is the collagen obtained from various animal parts including pig skin, bovine hide, as well as pork and cattle bones.
Shellac: it is obtained by refining the secretions of the Kerria lacca insects. It is used in almost every industry, especially in furniture/wood polishing, but also food and pharmaceutical processing. such as coating fruits, vegetables, candies, snacks, and pastries, to make them look fresher and more appealing.
Carmine: it is obtained from female cochineal insects. It may be spotted under following names: carmine, cochineal extract, natural red 4, E120, C.I. 75470, E120 or hydrated aluminium chelate of carminic acid. The cochineal extract is added to many foods, including meats, marinades, juices, jams, gelatins, candies, baked goods, toppings, icings, and dairy products.
L-cysteine: is a common flavor enhancer and dough conditioner used in bakery products (such as pizza, crackers, bagels, bread, croissants and donuts). While some L-cysteine may be chemically synthesized in laboratories, most of this non-essential amino acid is extracted from human hair or duck feathers.
Castoreum: it is the substance that beavers naturally secrete to mark their territories, but also gives flavour to certain foods. It is a bitter, strongly odoriferous secretion, produced by the animal’s sacs, located by the anal glands. It has been used extensively in cosmetics, including perfumes, but also as a natural flavouring agent in food and beverages such as raspberry & vanilla flavored foods, like ice creams, candies, syrups, pastries, and cigarettes. As it is considered a ‘natural flavour’ is doesn’t even have to be listed on the label.
Approved viruses: more than 6 years ago by the FDA, a mixture of bacteria-killing viruses was approved to be used by food industry to prevent listeriosis. The special viruses (bacteriophages) are sprayed on poultry products and ready-to-eat meat just before they are packaged. It is not unusual for bacteria to develop a resistance over time. Another good reason to be a vegetarian…