I have to be honest, I have stopped reading labels.
Honestly - I don't have photographic memory and can't remember the 300 million names for additives, preservatives, MSG and sugar. And I'm not about to start carrying a print-out of that list with me when I shop.
But if I look back to the small, incremental changes that I've made over the last five years to improve my family's health and increase our immunity -- this is the one that's made the biggest the difference:
STICKING TO THE FRESH PRODUCE SECTION OF THE SUPERMARKET
We buy 80-90% of our food from the front of the supermarket and less than 20% from the back. And when I do wander around the back aisles, this is what my inner voice shouts at me:
DONT BE FOOLED INTO THINKING THAT INGREDIENT LISTS THAT HAVE ADDED VITAMINS ARE GOOD FOR YOU
For example: Silk Almond milk: "Almond milk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Natural Flavour, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum. Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin E Acetate, Zinc Gluconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2." ALL THE INGREDIENTS UNDERLINED ARE SUGAR. THIS DRINK IS BASICALLY A SUGAR BOMB.
My solution: I buy Rude Health almond milk which has just 3 ingredients -- all of which I recognize.
SUGAR IS IN EVERYTHING
Here are TWO examples from healthy products:
- Bertolli Organic Traditional Tomato Sauce: "Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste), Organic Diced Tomatoes In Juice, Organic Soybean Oil, Organic Sugar, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Onions, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic, Organic Romano Cheese (Organic Cultured Part-Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Organic Basil, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Fennel." AND CHEESE IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR SALT.
- Hormel Natural Choice Deli Ham (no added hormones, nitrates or nitrites): "Pork, Water, Honey, Salt, Turbinado sugar, cultured celery powder, cherry powder".
My solution: I make my own tomato sauce and I buy Organic Prairie turkey & chicken deli meats because they do not add anything but water and salt to the protein.
NATURAL FLAVOUR? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Here's the definition for this term but basically it's chemically derived additive and sometimes it comes from an animal's gland located in strange places. (I'm not kidding). "The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional." BUT WHY DOES SILK NEED TO ADD NATURAL FLAVOURING TO ITS MILK? Isn't it made with almonds?
My solution: I buy another option if available or don't eat it.
MSG IS IN ALL PROCESSED FOODS. PERIOD.
Don't bother learning the 300 other names for MSG because when it is used as a processing agent, which is very common in many food products, MSG does not require labelling. MSG is actually found in many health foods like veggie burgers, turkey sausages, textured or hydrolyzed proteins and some highly processed protein powders. AND GUESS WHAT? Those ingredients called "powders" which are in most deli meats (even the nitrate/nitrite, so-called "healthy" ones) -- my research seems to indicate that they are very often forms of MSG.
My solution: I limit my processed food purchases to deli meats because my daughter is picky and only wants deli & cheese sandwiches for school.(I live in the real world too!)
STAY AWAY FROM FOOD COLOURING AND E-NUMBERS.
The rainbow skittles, the ice lollies/popsicles, slushies, rainbow licorice, hot dogs. Especially Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. They are notorious for triggering allergic responses and behavioural problems. Food colouring is also camouflaged with "E numbers". For example, E-110 is yellow, E131 is blue.
My solution: I buy NOTHING with Es in it. Hard and fast rule.
WHY DOES SHOPPING HAVE TO BE SO HARD? Sometimes it feels like the food industry is in a conspiracy against us. Why can't we trust even the healthy labels?? It's just too frustrating. That's why I have gradually weaned myself off food products with labels on them.
I do have to make exceptions of course, because if not, I'd go crazy. Is my family exposed to MSG? Yes. Sugar? Of course. But by prioritising my purchases and choosing the least bad option out there within my means, at least I'm significantly cutting down my family's overall exposure to the baddies.
We all have to make priority calls when shopping and no one knows better than you what is right for your family. But sticking to the front of the supermarket could be your best weapon in the constant struggle to keep your family strong & healthy.
Thrive Nutrition Practice launches in Spring 2016