23 September 2010

Using food labels to your advantage

When you have diabetes or some other chronic diseases, reading and understanding food labels is a necessity. Please know that labels can be off and are not necessarily 100% accurate. They have limits that they must be within and there are often items that are not measured because they are not required by law.

Also key to reading the labels is reading the list of ingredients to discover what also may not be on the label. This is sometimes impossible to determine the more processed the food has become and when foods from other suppliers are included.

Read the following article (page 1 and page 2) on WebMd to learn what the rules are for ingredients and labels are. I was aware of some of them, but this has been an education for me as well even after being in the food industry for almost twenty years, but never involved in the labeling department.

Reading and understanding food labels is more an art than science as the USDA would lead you to believe. Words are often changed, not so much to mislead, but to lull you into believing everything is okay. An example is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which can be labeled as corn syrup, corn products, and now if approved, we will see it as corn sugar. We will continue to see it as corn products, and maybe corn syrup. This is just an example of how the manufacturers will try to muddle the ingredients.

To see how some companies are making claims that are often not totally honest, please take time to read this article which has nine slides of the deceptive practices of food manufacturers. And these are some of the worst practices, but far from from being the end of fraudulent practices that are not even mentioned. So when you are shopping for foods, it is truly a “buyer beware” and an art to avoid all the misleading labels and problem foods for people with chronic illnesses.

It will take a reworking of our labeling laws and increasing of enforcement powers with very heft fines of both the FDA and USDA to reign in the deceptive claims of our food manufacturers.

Some more articles you might be interested in reading.

Site 1. While aimed the younger generation, there is much valuable information.
Site 2. Same type of information.
Site 3. More good information about understanding labels.
Site 4. Many examples of the labels in use today arranged by food category.
Site 5. A good reference about labels and a link to the USDA food database - 3 pages.
Site 6. A good reference about label terminology.

This list is only a sampling of the articles available on the internet to assist in your education of reading food labels and deciphering the false claims from the real ones.

I also suggest a small pocket sized book “Food Additives” by Ed Blonz, Ph.D.. This defines many of the additives found on labels and tells you about them whether they are good or harmful and why. On page five there is a discussion on nitrites and why they are both good and bad at the same time, why they are used to preserve red meats and protect us from botulism, but present a risk for cancer at the same time.
Also use this pocketbook to read some of the labels on the foods already in your home.  You may find some surprises.

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