When big business and food meet, the results are often delicious. But is it healthy? I recently read an article in Reader’s Digest (June 2015, print issue) about 50 things food manufacturers don’t tell consumers about packaged foods. Here are some that I found particularly deceptive:
– Some producers hide how much sugar is in their products by using different terms for it, such as “high fructose corn syrup”, “cane crystals”, and “dextrose.” This is so that if a product has a lot of sugar in it, companies can intentionally use two or more different types of sugar so that “sugar” doesn’t end up being number one on the ingredients list. At this point, many of us know that whichever ingredient comes first on the ingredients list is the ingredient the food has the highest amount of. The good news is that the FDA is considering changing labeling so that every kind of sugar gets listed together as “added sugar.”
– Many cheese products aren’t really cheese. To save money and simplify the production process, manufacturers take out some of the milk and replace it with processed milk protein concentrate or whey protein concentrate. So look closely at the label next time you shop for cheese- if it says “pasteurized prepared cheese product,” it’s because the FDA won’t allow the brand to call the product cheese! Examples include Kraft American Cheese and Kraft Velveeta products.
– Salt is a vital part of processed foods. It’s a preservative, saves companies money by replacing more expensive herbs and spices, brings out sweetness, and masks bad flavors inherent to many processed foods.
– The FDA lets food manufacturers do their own safety testing and decide for themselves whether ingredients are “generally recognized as safe.” There aren’t even mandatory guidelines about the kinds of tests they have to do! What’s worse is that companies don’t have to tell the FDA about new additives they’re using.
One way to avoid a lot of this junk is by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. I also try to steer clear of foods with very long ingredient lists (the less ingredients, the less processed and artificial), and I look for all-natural/minimally processed products.
Places like Trader Joe’s are great because they sell natural and organic food at reasonable prices, which is important because you shouldn’t have to be rich to eat healthy food. (They also take food stamps/SNAP.) What an injustice that so many healthy/organic food brands, as well as stores like Wholefoods, overcharge. The thought that we live in a society with a widening wealth AND health gap is frightening.
Check out rd.com for more food tips (although I don’t think this article is posted online yet. Maybe by next month).