This week I’ve been blogging about common label reading mistakes including ignoring serving sizes, misunderstanding label terms, and trusting the word zero. The last one I’ll mention in the bunch is not reading the ingredient list. According to a recent survey about half of shoppers read ingredients and half don’t. I tell my clients it should be the very first thing you look at. Even if a food appears healthy and is labeled natural or organic, the only way to truly judge the quality is to find out what it’s made from. Even organic foods can be highly processed and believe it or not they can even contain high fructose corn syrup.
My rule of thumb is if the list reads like a recipe and the food contains ingredients you’d use to make a homemade version in your own kitchen it’s a good choice, but if you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce the ingredients think twice. Here’s a good example – the ingredients in Amy’s Chunky Vegetable soup are: Filtered Water, Organic Tomatoes, Organic Carrots, Organic Green Beans, Organic Corn, Organic Peas, Organic Spinach, Organic Onions, Organic Celery, Sea Salt, and Organic Cracked Black Pepper. Yes it’s canned soup, but based on the ingredients it’s a pretty wholesome food - it does sound like a recipe minus the amounts of each ingredient.
When I shop I notice more people stopping to read packages and even compare similar foods, which is great, but I know it takes time. Here’s a tip to make it a little easier: do it online first. Check to see if a market in your city offers an online shopping option or grocery delivery service. For example in New York City we have www.freshdirect.com and Chicago has www.peapod.com. Both of these sites allow you to “window shop” by browsing the aisles and accessing Nutrition Facts panels complete with ingredient lists online. Browsing the store in the comfort of your own home is a great way to check out new foods or healthier options or even create a grocery list before your “real time” trip to the supermarket.
Just like most things in life the more you do it the easier it gets and hopefully you’ll feel like the extra investigating will be time well spent. Do you have any label reading questions? Fire away!