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Mel’s Healthy Living: Reading Food Labels

February 27, 2014

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Who remembers Capri Sun juice pouches? I remember there was always one in my lunchbox up until fourth grade when my mom stopped buying them because of their terribly unhealthy ingredients. “They’re junk,” she’d say, and that began my health food journey.

So what exactly is this junk that I am now avoiding?

Sodium tripolyphosphate. Sodium benzoate. High fructose corn syrup. Maltodextrin. Monosodium glutamate (MSG). And the list goes on.

There’s a general rule that says you should be wary of a food product when you can’t even pronounce the names of its ingredients.

What is more relevant, however, is the fact that these ingredients show up in more than just junk food. Additives are in practically every processed and packaged food out there; the problem is that the common consumer has no idea what they are or what effects they can have on their health.

And it’s not entirely the consumer’s fault. We can be overwhelmed by the appeal and taste of processed food, or simply distracted by the nutrition facts. Ingredients don’t seem too important when they are printed incredibly small on the back of a box where no one will read them.

This needs to change. Young people need to be more aware of what they are consuming on a daily basis, and one of the best places to start is with reading food labels.

Reading food labels goes beyond checking how many calories a product has; it is taking the time to read over the small print arranged below the nutrition facts column. Ingredients are listed by their weight in a food product. That way, you can easily review the first couple ingredients as being the most abundant.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore all the fine print that surpasses the first few labels. Avoid the ingredients mentioned above and others like them, such as artificial food dyes, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, and sodium nitrates/nitrites in meats.

But why look out for all these? There’s so many, and they all sound so complicated and why can’t I just eat them… It really comes down to health. It’s whether or not you care about your short and long term health.

These additives seem to have snuck their way into almost all food products, which is why some level of concern has to be acted upon.

Sodium tripolyphosphate is a listed ingredient in the cheese sauce powder from Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Declared by the FDA, sodium tripolyphosphate is a food preservative, allowing a product to retain moisture and stay on a shelf longer.

The extent of this chemical, however, goes beyond mac and cheese. Upon a Google search, sodium tripolyphosphate is used to preserve fish in transportation, but also as a chemical in household detergents and cleaners.

There are also more common additives that you are already familiar with, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Compared to the numerous harsh chemicals in America’s food system, I think MSG is one of the worst. Used mainly to enhance flavor, it seems to be in everything from soups and salad dressings to snack food and frozen dinners.

In one way, it’s what makes you crave more of a food. By disrupting neurological pathways, MSG shuts down your brain’s “I’m full” function. And as a result, there are countless references, including a 2008 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health study, acknowledging that MSG can lead to fatigue, depression and even obesity.

It is these artificial flavor additives that keep Americans addicted to junk food and moving down a detrimental health track.

The reality of all this is that our country is full of differing opinions and research concerning the safety of our food. While the FDA claims a lot of these chemicals are okay for consumption, news articles and nutritionist’s blogs are constantly popping up stating otherwise.

I’m not trying to completely change your diet or to convince you that the FDA is wrong; I simply want you to take the initiative to care about what goes into your food.

 

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