You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to read labels. Heck, you don’t even have to be a high school graduate.
All you have to do is figure out how to read the label in front of you and trust your instincts.
My college roommate is the one who taught me this lesson. One afternoon she asked me why I bought Fat Free Ranch Dressing instead of “The Real Stuff?”
I said: “If there were two ranch dressings side by side that tasted the same, and one had less fat than the other…wouldn’t you buy the one with no fat?”
(Especially in the 2000’s, when everyone was stuck on cutting fat in every way possible.)
Without hesitation she said “But, they don’t taste the same”. I guess I never realized that before. I did that day, though. They really don’t taste the same.
It’s funny how we don’t always notice the things that are right in front of us.
Before that four and a half second conversation with Ahna, I never really thought about food that was “Low Fat” or “Sugar Free” and how that worked.
I just sort of figured it was some kind of food magic.
This is when I learned that when it comes to food, personal care, makeup and cleaning products, all of the words on the front of the bottle are marketing tools. They literally mean nothing when it comes to what’s in the actual product you are looking at.
They’re designed to catch your eye, give you the wow factor, and get you to pick pick it up and plop it in your cart without a second thought…and it works! I mean, it worked on me for years.
Once I started flipping the bottle over and reading the back of the products I was buying I quickly learned that the words on the front are more or less meaningless. The ingredients list is where the real information is.
I’m Lo! I am a blogger, course creator, avid environmentalist and curly hair queen. My job is simple: to awaken your consciousness, help you step away from mass consumption and embrace a more simple and sustainable style of life.
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In the food and personal care industries, companies are required by law to print a complete List of Ingredients on their products. The ingredients must be listed in order of predominance with the ingredients used in the greatest amount printed first followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.
Here is what I found when I flipped over the bottle of Fat Free Ranch and compared it to Hidden Valley’s regular ranch (which is what I thought I was eating, just without the fat…somehow…).
Modified Food Starch
Calcium Disodium EDTA
Modified Corn Starch
Calcium Disodium EDTA
All of the ingredients in bold under the Fat Free label is what does not exist in the regular formulation.
What I noticed, right off the bat is that oil, the old #1 ingredient, was not present at all. Instead there was more water and a slew of other ingredients I had never heard of, including what I now know to be chemical thickeners, added sugars, artificial colors and a whole boat load of ingredients I don’t even recognize (like DL-Alpha-Tocopherol, what in the world is that?!).
That’s when it kind of hit me. In order to make this product Fat Free, they have to do quite a bit more than sub nonfat milk for buttermilk and reduce the egg yolk. For some reason in my head I thought it was that easy.
This is just one example. After that conversation I started looking a lot closer at the foods I was thinking about buying and spending more time questioning the claims made on food labels throughout my grocery store.
Not all at once…this has been a decade long journey.
What I did was get curious. I wanted to know more about what I was buying and eating. I flipped over the package of one or two items when I got curious or had a little extra time and started reading, started learning.
I started making choices based on what I found on the ingredients list rather than the branding on the front or negligible price differences.
There are better choices that cost the same literally right there on the same shelves, if you choose to find them.
My eyes started opening.
I distinctly remember one other instance when I went to grab OJ and saw that Tropicana came out with what is now called Trop50. At the time is was just marketed as Orange Juice with “Half the Sugar”.
At first I thought how wonderful it was, to finally have a juice with less water. I went to put it in my cart and just before I did I flipped it over and read the ingredients list.
100% Orange Juice.
Not From Concentrate Pasteurized Orange Juice
Orange Juice from concentrate
Purified Stevia Leaf Extract
That is the day that I learned that it takes 18 ingredients and who knows how much processing to get 100% orange juice to have half the sugar.
You don’t have to know what “Thiamin Hydrochloride” or “Magnesium Phosphate” are you see that. Or to know that most of those 18 ingredients aren’t real food.
Labels are complicated. Even 15 years into this journey. They don’t get easier, you just get smarter.
Here is what I look for:
- What are the top 5 ingredients? Are they real, nourishing food (or ingredients)?
Companies are required to list all of the ingredients in the products they use in order from most to least prevalent. Typically the first 5 ingredients make up 70-90% of what’s in the package.
- How many ingredients are there? Less is always more for me. Compare to other products on the shelf as a baseline.
- Can I pronounce what’s in it? I love a product with ingredients that I UNDERSTAND. It kinda bugs me that I have to be excited about that.
- Are there any noticeable games being played? The Orange Juice comparison is a perfect example.
In Trop50, instead of listing “Orange Juice” they call it “Not From Concentrate Pastured Orange Juice”, etc. That screams processing. Trust me, if they could just say OJ on the list, they would. But they can’t and that’s a red flag in my book. This is where I started my journey to conscious consumption over ten years ago.
You do not have to know what these ingredients are to understand what is happening. They are replacing what’s real with something we desire, and then meeting that desire by deceiving us.
It takes an additional 16 ingredients to make the liquid left over from slowly heating orange carcasses in water taste like orange juice.
All we really had to do was add a splash or two to our 100% orange juice and, guess what, it would have less sugar. I personally love mixing my juices with carbonate water from my soda stream.
Trop50 is the perfect example of companies drastically overcomplicating what in reality is a simple solution. Providing us options for things we don’t really need options for, for the sake of having options and making money.
So what are your thoughts about all of the “No Fat” and “No Sugar” claims? Are you into them, or feeling ready to leave them behind?
Let me know in the comments below!