Reprinted with the kind permission of Sue Ingebretson
Have you ever eaten something from a restaurant without asking for an ingredients list? Or have you eaten anything from a package without knowing what – exactly – was in it? Of course you have! Deciphering the ingredients found in the foods we eat can be a full-time job.
First of all, simply reading the label can be confusing. I won’t waste your time here explaining it as there are other resources that do a fine job. Check out this article entitled How to Read Food Labels.
An Eye-Opening Demonstration
Let’s take a look for a moment at packaged foods.
When I do food demonstrations in my workshops, I like to share one that depicts the enormity (and impact) of processed food ingredients. I place 63 small paper cups on a table. Each cup has an ingredient name written on it. And, I use a highlighter to color code the ingredient names with one of four colors.
I share that all highly processed packaged food ingredients can be categorized into one of four* main categories.
The ingredients are either –
A fake and highly processed SUGAR
A fake and highly processed FAT/OIL
A fake and highly processed FLOUR
CHEMICAL thickeners, moisteners, stabilizers, emulsifiers, sweeteners, flavorings (including MSG and/or sodium), dyes, preservatives, additives, vitamins, etc.
Most processed foods (chips, crackers, cereals, breads, pastries, etc.) contain ingredients from all four categories listed above. Most fake drinks include ingredients from categories #1 and #4. Surprisingly, some fake drinks (ones that are made to feel thick or creamy) also include oils from category #2. Blech!
(*The only other ingredient missing from these categories is water which is not listed on nutrition labels.)
Why does this matter?
When you consume packaged foods –
becomes what’s in YOU.
Getting back to my 63 ingredient food example. When I show workshop attendees all of the cups and ask them to imagine that each one contains a portion of the listed ingredient, they have a clearer idea of what goes into a processed food. It’s blatantly apparent how the vast majority of them are chemicals.
I hold up a cup, attempt to read the long and complicated ingredient name written on it, and then ask them if they’d eat that ingredient alone. Or, if they’d feed it to their family.
They usually say, no.
The obvious question becomes, why is it okay to mix all of the 63 ingredients together and then eat it? Why does it miraculously become “food” at that point?
If you made a cake from “scratch” at home, you’d mainly use sugar, eggs, flour, and oil. You’d never add butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT), would you? Yet, you’ll find that in packaged foods.
you can’t un-know it.
If you’d like to find out some of the worst ingredients found in packaged foods you can check out this article.
Sugar is one of the most dangerous ingredients found in packaged foods, and it often is disguised on the food label. If you’d like to discover 60 ways that sugar can hide in your ingredients list (along with a handy dandy printable guide), check out my own article HERE.
The Dastardly Demo Food
Are you at least a bit curious about the “food” I demonstrate in this way? I use a box of toaster pastries. Seriously. I have a box from 2010 that shows all 63 ingredients, which takes up the whole side of the box – in teeny tiny print. (Full Disclosure: I bought the product for the purpose of my food demonstrations and did the right thing. I threw away the contents and saved the box.)
In fairness, I’ve been told that they’ve cleaned up their labels these days and that many toaster pastries now show fewer ingredients. While this may be true, I doubt the item itself has improved in nutritional value.
Of course, choosing to eat something with full knowledge of what’s in it is perfectly fine. That’s your prerogative (and mine). My point is that it’s important to know what ingredients are in the packaged foods you eat. Then you can make an educated decision.
Restaurant foods can be a bit more of a challenge. You probably don’t hang out at McDonald’s much, but to get you started on ingredients to avoid, here’s a list of the Top 10 Toxic Ingredients that McDonald’s uses in their foods.
Have you ever been shocked to find what’s really in something that you eat? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment below!
Sue Ingebretson is the Natural Healing Editor for ProHealth.com as well as a frequent contributor to ProHealth's Fibromyalgia site. She’s an Amazon best-selling author, speaker, and workshop leader. Additionally, Sue is an Integrative Nutrition & Health Coach, a Certified Nutritional Therapist, a Master NLP Practitioner, and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.