Test Your Shopping Savvy

Think you know what’s really in your food? Do you ever find yourself reading labels and not knowing what certain ingredients are?

Maybe you’ve been reading labels forever, checking calories or fat content, carbs or protein, and it’s seemed like an easy task.

But in recent years, our food system has undergone radical changes, with an increase in additives and engineered foods. Some key words have been used as marketing tools to make us want to buy products based on what is popular or deemed healthy. Words like ‘all natural’ or ‘organic’ lead us to believe that we’re buying something that is good for us, but this is not always the case.

All Natural means All Good, Right?

Actually, the ‘All Natural’ label just means the ingredients were derived from nature. From wood chips to crushed bugs, these things fall under the labeling laws of ‘natural’. All natural is not defined by the FDA, so anything that is present in nature can be used in a natural product. Natural flavoring for example, specifically vanilla and raspberry, is castoreum, or the secretion of the beaver anal gland. Because it occurs in nature, it passes as a natural ingredient. Things like annatto, carrageenan, which are said to be ‘natural’ preservatives, still create GI disturbances for many people.

Buying Organic Can Be Tricky

A product must contain 95%-100% organic ingredients to get the USDA label. To be labeled as ‘organic’ without the USDA stamp of approval, 70% must be organic, meaning the other 30% can come from anywhere. Some of the organic products in the grocery store still contain things like MSG, added sugars, and sodium.

What suspicious products should you be on the lookout for?

Well, really, anything that comes in a box or can. As convenience foods grew so did our rate of obesity and diabetes. And for most of this stuff, there aren’t any government rules on how things can be packaged and sold.

Here are some specifics to avoid:

Artificial Flavors and Dyes: These are typically derived from petroleum. Red #40 has been linked to an increase in hyperactivity and ADD. It’s been banned in 4 countries, but the US is not one of them.

MSG: MSG, commonly found in Chinese food and many packaged foods as well, is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more. MSG has been linked to obesity, eye damage, headaches, fatigue and disorientation, and depression.

Yeast extract: This is just another name for MSG.  Unfortunately, it’s legal for a company to say their food product has “No added MSG” as long as they don’t add monosodium glutamate.  MSG, however, hides in mor