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Food Label Fatigue

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Remember several years ago when all processed foods at the grocery store started using a uniform labeling system to show us calories, fat grams and nutrients?  It was such a reassuring step toward helping us know exactly what we were eating.  Maybe even help us maintain a healthy weight.  Of course, there were all of the ingredients, too, all printed on the label.  But I got used to glancing at the easier-to-read Nutrition Facts printed in bold, and I usually didn’t bother reading the ingredients.

Parenthood motivated me start reading all of that fine print on the labels, down to the last ingredient.  Especially those questionable additives and preservatives.  When some creamy foods seemed to make my child’s skin red and itchy, I started finding a pattern in products that contained potassium sorbate or polysorbate 80.  On this weekend’s trip to the grocery store, I replaced our family’s usual “ice cream” product with a whopping 38 ingredients (including polysorbate 80) on the label, with an ice cream that seems to be the real thing.  It has 5 ingredients, and they’re all things like cream, sugar and natural vanilla flavoring.  I decided to pay more for the yogurt without the potassium sorbate in it.  And I felt really frustrated when I started to pick up the wholesome looking whole wheat tortillas I usually buy and discovered that they, too, contain potassium sorbate.

So there are easy-to-read Nutrition Facts, there’s the fine print of tedious ingredient lists, and then there’s what we can’t see on the label.  Was the food made with genetically modified or engineered ingredients?  One of the best explanations I’ve seen lately of why we should be concerned about this missing detail is at the Farm Aid website, so here’s the link to check it out for yourself.

I realize that I don’t sound like much of food purist if I was allowing my child to eat “junk” like ice cream anyway.  We do eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, eat as much organic food as we can afford, and cook from scratch whenever possible.  Our lifestyle is moderate, and occasional ice cream at home is one of those special treats that seems reasonable.  Now I’m wondering if I should start making my own whole wheat tortillas.  I find it frustrating for myself and other busy parents who still buy some processed foods that label-reading is so downright exhausting!

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3 Responses to Food Label Fatigue

  1. Sara March 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    good post! I’ve only recently started reading ingredient labels, after deciding to switch to an organic/whole foods diet, and I was shocked at what we had been ingesting once I actually started looking at those labels!

    Now I bake and cook most everything from scratch so my grocery trips are for mostly ingredient type things-but even those can be tricky because like you touched on-GMO’s are in EVERYTHING-ugh! And since our government doesn’t mandate that foods with gmos be marked it can be be very challenging to walk out of the store with truly natural/healthy foods.

  2. Anne February 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Thanks for the input, Kristin. I went with convenience today when I found some frozen whole wheat tortillas at one of the “healthy” grocery stores later today. The ingredients list claimed to be all-natural. I like to cook from scratch when I can make the time to do it.

  3. Kristin February 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    I’ve always wondered how many people really take time to read the nutrition facts and ingredients of the food they eat. It takes me forever in the store because I’m reading every label in the cracker aisle looking for one that doesn’t have HFCS. But, I am the only one that I ever see reading a label. It’s very bothersome that many Americans have no clue what is in the food they eat.

    I’m right there with you on the tortillas. Every time I make them from scratch they are too thick-more Taco Bell chalupa-like than tortilla. I haven’t found one that I feel is good for us. I’ll keep looking though.

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