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Food Labels

If you don't already do so, start reading the labels on cans and packages of food products. You may be in for a real shock. Ingredients are listed in order by amount; that is, the main ingredient is listed first, on down to the smallest. Comparative shopping often reveals that while one product contains sugar and/or strange-sounding chemicals, another brand may not. Keep in mind, however, that ingredient labeling has some limitations. There are many additives that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require to be listed on labels. Some ingredients must be listed on some products but not on others. Incomplete or inadequate labeling is also evident; for example, certified food coloring may be listed, but the specific type is not indicated. Ingredient labeling is not required at all on some products. For instance, due to powerful lobbying, the dairy industry has been exempted from listing most additives.

Also realize that the processed food industry may use wording on the labels and techniques in their advertising that can make you feel confused, deceived, and downright pressured. To give you a few examples:

  • Enriched" or "wheat" flour means white flour. White flour is made from wheat, except that the bran and wheat germ have been removed. To be sure you're getting a true whole-grain product, look for the words "stone-ground whole wheat" (or rye, or other grain). "Natural sweetener" usually means sugar (as opposed to artificial sweetener).
  • Supposedly knowledgeable professionals or celebrities may be paid to recommend a product.
  • Labels may list the vitamins and minerals with which a product has been enriched. This usually means that a minimal amount of vitamins has been added to a deficient (that is, junk) food product to make the label look good. The product is often high in sugar, white flour, and/or fat.

As products of our environment, most of us are strongly influenced by food ads and consequently are lacking in both nutrition education and nutritious food.

Food producers boast an annual advertising budget as big as the portion sizes they advertise. McDonald's alone spends about $1 billion a year promoting its products, and soft-drink companies spend about $600 million. All told, the food industry spends about $25 billion on advertising and other forms of promotion. Only 2 percent of the ads are for fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans - the foods that should make up the bulk of a healthy diet. —Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest

As products of our environment, most of us are strongly influenced by these ads and consequently are lacking in both nutrition education and nutritious food.

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