Label reading — It’s just self-defense these days

I read an interesting article on AlterNet the other day on advertising buzzwords in the food biz. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a vigilant label reader. My husband has developed a non-celiac gluten allergy and so I’m very careful about avoiding anything with wheat and the other gluten containing grains. What I’ve also come to appreciate is that when I flip over the package and read the contents BEFORE I buy, it’s made me a lot more aware of the added ingredients. Just how much salt and sugar is hidden in my every day food purchases? It turns out to be a lot and in a lot of cases, I’ve read this lengthy list of ingredients and thought “No, I don’t think so….” and back on the shelf it goes.

I think it’s easy to get fooled into thinking that foods in the “organic” or “health food” section are not as processed as the “commercially processed foods”. Wrong — the word “natural” has no legally enforceable definition. Simple foods, like yogurt, get loaded down with additives over additives over additives — for preservation, taste, colour, you name it.

It’s been said before but it bears saying again — your food is supposed to be able to rot. Yogurt does not need sugar in it — it’s supposed to be tangy.

One of the big problems I’ve found over the past few years is how the commercial food processing/manufacturing industry has trained our tastebuds to be entirely responsive to two tastes and two alone: sugar and salt. And why not? These are cheap ingredients which help preserve food. This is fabulous if you’re a food manufacturer and your aim going into the kitchen is to develop a product that is shelf stable for 18-24 months, salt and sugar are your friend.

On the other hand, when I go into the kitchen to feed my family, I have somewhat different aims. I want tasty food that nourishes people and that is going to be eaten inside the next few hours. It doesn’t need to be rot-proof for the next decade.

The point I’m trying to make is don’t pay any attention to the slogans on the FRONT of the package … LOCAL!! ORGANIC!! NATURAL!! WHOLE GRAINS!! Flip the package over and read the ingredient list … for your own health and pocketbook, keep the ingredient lists short and pronounceable. Food you can pronounce costs less than stuff you need to look up on Wikipedia.

Keep cooking, and we’ll talk later.



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