What Everybody Ought to Know About Food Labels

Aug 30


Ian Mackie

Ian Mackie

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Did you know? Additives aren't always listed as an ingredient in foods; more than three hundred standardized foods don't have to list their ingredients. Ice cream, for example, can contain some twenty-five specified additives without having to list any of them.


Eat fresh or minimally processed foods as much as possible,What Everybody Ought to Know About Food Labels Articles since they usually have few additives. Avoid junk foods (such as cookies, candy, and soda), which are not only chock-full of artificial colors and other additives, but are also of little nutritional value - high in calories, sugar, fats and/or sodium.

This is especially good advice for children, who are the main consumers of junk foods and are at increased risk if there are any health problems with additives.

Why do some foods not list any ingredients at all? Ketchup, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, and margarine are among some three-hundred-odd staples that don't have to list ingredients or nutrients because they are made according to a "standard of identity" - a recipe specifying concentrations of various ingredients - regulated by the FDA. For example, if the jar says "mayonnaise", it must contain vegetable oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice, and egg yolk; these ingredients don't have to be spelled out. Certain optional ingredients, however, such as salt, sweetener, and preservatives, must be listed. Some manufacturers voluntarily list the ingredients on standardized foods; others provide ingredients lists at the consumer's request.

Most foods are not standardized, so they must list their ingredients. Even so, an ingredients list can be deceptive when it comes to sugar and sodium, and less than clear about flavoring and colorings.

Food labels tell little about the two problem nutrients that may be most important to you - fat and cholesterol.

A nutrition label must list how many grams of fat there are in a serving, but seldom anything beyond that, and very few foods indicate what percentage of their calories come from fat. A breakdown of the fats into unsaturated and saturated fatty acids is optional. Cholesterol content is also optional, unless a claim is made about it.

Read food labels. But remember additives aren't always listed: more than three hundred standardized foods don't have to list their ingredients. Ice cream, for example, can contain some twenty-five specified additives without having to list any of them.

Limit your intake of foods listing "artificial colors.” Substitute products colored by real fruit juice. Still, an occasional maraschino cherry won't harm you.

Eat a variety of foods. This will limit your exposure to any one additive, should it turn out to have long-term risks.

Who is Protecting You?

Did you know?Stabilizers, thickeners, and texturizers such as gums, carrageenan, gelatin, flour, pectin, cellulose, and starch are additives added to improve consistency and provide desired texture.

Many are natural carbohydrates that absorb water in foods. These additives affect "mouth feel" of foods - i.e., prevent ice crystals from forming in ice cream.

Food additives are extensively studied and regulated, primarily by the FDA. Legislation in 1958 and 1960 required manufacturers to prove the safety of any new additive; before that, the burden was on the government to prove the health danger of a substance.

Margin of safety. If manufacturer-sponsored tests prove an additive is safe, the FDA sets guidelines for its use. Generally, food manufacturers can use only one-hundredth of the least amount of an additive shown to be toxic in lab animals.

The Delaney clause. This is the most restrictive provision of the 1958 law, stating that a substance shown to cause cancer in animals or man may not be added to food in any amount.

Food manufacturers argue against this rule on the grounds that in some cases the cancer risk is minuscule, or that nay risk is outweighed by the benefits the additive may provide - as with nitrites and saccharin, weak carcinogens that are still on the market.

Testing for SafetyEven under the best circumstances, absolute safety of an additive can never by proven. Any substance may be harmful when consumed in excess. Animal studies, which are our primary mode of testing, have limitations. They may not be effective in assessing the degree of cancer risk from long-term use because of the animals' short life spans. Moreover, it is hard to make precise comparisons between animals and humans. Other questions concern possible interactions of the hundreds of additives we consume.

With countless diets, programs and products promising to help you shed pounds, it should be easy. But as any veteran dieter knows, it's hard to lose weight. It's even harder keeping it off.

Simply eating too much and not being active enough is the cause of people being overweight. Too many people concentrate on losing pounds to improve appearance, when the primary focus of weight control should be to achieve and maintain good health.

To get the proper daily nutritional value:

-Eat a variety of foods

-Eat a high-fiber diet (choose more grains, fruits and vegetables instead of protein, fats and sugar)

-Maintain a low-fat, low cholesterol diet (eat no more than 30% of calories from fat, including only 10% from saturated fat)

-Use moderate amounts of salt and sodium and choose sugar substitutes

-Limit alcoholic intake

Often the first step to a good diet lies in changing food and eating behavior:

-Don't skip meals

-Eat a series of small meals throughout the day and avoid a big meal late in the evening

-Eat and chew slowly

-Use a smaller-sized plate to achieve a "full plate"

-Don't go back for seconds

-Bake or broil food instead of frying

-Order from light menus and purchase low-calorie or low-fat foods (remember that low-fat does not necessarily mean low-calorie)

-Learn about food values and make healthy combinations in meals

-Reward yourself with non-food pleasures

-Ounce for ounce, fat provides more than twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate (nine calories vs. four). This energy difference may explain how fat promotes weight gain. Yet even when calories are the same, a person eating a high-fat diet tends to store more excess calories as body fat than someone eating a lower-fat diet.

-For many people, maintaining a desirable weight and body fat percentage can only be achieved through an integrated program of nutrition and exercise-or balancing energy intake with energy expenditure. If you're overweight, shedding pounds often results in reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases. Even small weight losses can have significant health benefits.

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