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Reading Food Labels - What do you seek/avoid?

in the last few years I have become a compulsive label reader - while I am not big purchaser of "convenience foods" we all need to buy products to some extent. In my effort to totally remove Trans Fat and HFCS from my larder I now read every label before it goes in my cart.

in addition to the above I avoid for anything with too long an ingredient list and extensive corn/soy derivatives. I find that by reading the back of the box/can/jar instead of believing what is on the front I am more confident in what I am purchasing - and not always necessarily paying more

here is one extreme example

Ingredients:

Jif Reduced Fat Peanut Butter Spread :

PEANUTS, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, SUGAR, PEA PROTEIN, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: SALT, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, MOLASSES, MAGNESIUM OXIDE, NIACINAMIDE, FERRIC ORTHOPHOSPHATE, ZINC OXIDE, COPPER SULFATE, FOLIC ACID, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE.

Market Pantry Creamy All Natural Peanut Butter:

PEANUTS. SALT

both cheap down market brands - one labeled to make it appear a "healthful" low fat alternative - which one would you feed your kids?

or this less extreme example I posted today about Thai Green Curries

Maesri
Fresh Green Chili, Garlic, Wild Ginger, Shallot, Lemon Grass, Salt, Kaffir Lime, Sugar, Galangal, Spices ( Coriander seeds, Cumin, Cardamon, Tumeric ). Pepper

TJ
Water, Coconut milk (Coconut milk, cornstarch, guar gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan) Anaheim pepper puree, Tamari soy sauce (water, soybeans, wheat and salt), cilantro, Serrano pepper puree, cane sugar, ginger puree, lime juice concentrate, arrowroot powder, sea salt, organic shredded coconut, garlic, xanthan gum, dried coriander, dried cumin, dried lemongrass, shallots, white pepper

Things I no longer buy

Salad Dressing, Bread Crumbs, Most cookies, crackers and commercial baked goods, most "ice creams", flavored yoghurts

I don't make a religion about it or pretend I will come down with the black death if I ate a salad with wishbone dressing and box croutons but I do make best effort to know exactly what goes in my cart and in my mouth

Curious if other CH'ers compulsively read labels, what they look for and if it has changed their shopping habits. What surprised good and bad have you found?

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  1. I always read labels and will not buy products that contain sugar. We eat far too much sugar (any sweetening) in foods that don't need the stuff, for example mayonnaise.

    1. I have Type 2 diabetes so always check the label for sugar content. The diabetes nurse says I need to look for products with less than 10g sugars per 100g. It's fairly easy to do - although I have to say my morning muesli isnt all that enjoyable, even though it is virtuous.

      1. I limit purchases of products with any type of sugar or artificial sweetener, and look at the salt content

        2 Replies
        1. re: Pookipichu

          me too, except that i haven't weaned myself from artificial sweeteners yet. I am just asTOUNded by the fact that sugar (usually corn syrup) is in EVERYTHING processed. (What the heck is sugar doing in burritos plse?) And, i'll keep this rant short, but:

          Recent media tells us that Vegans and GF eaters have succeeded in getting the attention of food vendors and restaurants alike. If the food industry and the grocery industry were likewise contacted by the millions of Americans who seek low salt and low sugar foods (there MUST BE more of us than Vegans and GF eaters), don't you thnk we could affect some major change?

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            It's so hard to find products without some sort of sweetener. I've become leery of artificial sweeteners because they are used so indiscriminately since they are low calorie.

            Sometimes products have so much artificial sweetener I feel a headache from the sweetness. Also, I read that the sweetness tricks your body into producing insulin and is not good for your body long term.

        2. I don't usually buy "complex" food (i.e. highly transformed food like "Reduced Fat Peanut Butter Spread" )

          When I have to do it (mostly craving) I check the salt and fat content.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Maximilien

            Yes, I don't buy reduced fat anything, except milk ( 2%). I buy whole milk cheeses including mozzarella and whole milk yogurt ( which can be really hard to find here). I wish I had an easy source of raw milk again, we used to milk our own jersey and goats. Same thing with the chicken, duck and goose eggs.

            1. re: rasputina

              yes that's another one - whole fat dairy - all the time - its amazing how hard it is to find at the supermarket - sometimes - we have good sources here though - I do love raw milk but don't buy it often because I don't really drink milk and it seems pointless to cook with it. Whole milk plain yoghurt is such a versatile ingredient and yet is totally pushed out on the shelves for fat free vanilla BLEH

              1. re: JTPhilly

                Tell me about it. At our natural foods store I can only find one brand of whole milk plain yogurt. But there are rows and rows of non fat, it's so annoying.

                1. re: rasputina

                  I wish I could find low sugar dairy products that don't have artificial sweetener. I eat fruit without dipping them in sugar or "concentrating" their sugar so why do I need sweetener in a fruit yogurt.

                  1. re: Pookipichu

                    because yogurt is naturally sour. Can't you buy plain yogurt?

                    Flavored yogurt has always been sweet, even in the days when Dannon was the only national brand.

                    1. re: paulj

                      I'm not sure what your point is, regardless of whether yogurt is sour, they don't need to add sugar to the fruit. People have been pairing fruit with yogurt for hundreds of years without powdered sugar or grape juice concentrate. I'd like the option of buying a non-plain yogurt and not having to wash blueberries or strawberries, chop pineapple, etc.

                      1. re: Pookipichu

                        So you want to eat yogurt like they did a hundred years ago in Greece, but buy it with all the modern conveniences. The trick is to convince some marketing firm that you are big enough market niche.

                        1. re: paulj

                          Market it properly and people will buy it, give people the option... don't understand why you are so intent on negging on fruit yogurt without sweetener, I find it strange but I guess you have your reasons... only a few decades ago, soda consumption was through the roof, tastes can be cyclical, now people drink more bottled water, etc.

                      2. re: paulj

                        When Dannon was first introduced in the US, c. 1974 +/- (i remember finding it in college) it was more close to the French original: it was plain yogurt plopped on top of fruit (there used to be the occasional cherry pit in the containers). Nowadays it's overly-sweetened enhanced glop.

                        I'm lucky enough to have several varieties of whole-milk, plain yogurt at the store I frequent, but it's not the case everywhere. When I was in NY last month it was hard to find even in the vaunted Wegman's: shelf after shelf of flavored stuff, but only tiny containers of plain yogurt - I don't even think it was whole milk.

                        1. re: tardigrade

                          Dannon today is definitely not the product I grew up with although their new fruit on the bottom "throwback" product has fewer egregious ingredients than many commercial yogurts - I would love to see a label form a 1970s or 80s Dannon yoghurt and compare to todays

                          some interesting reading here
                          http://www.fundinguniverse.com/compan...

                          "To stimulate sales, Dannon in 1992 began test-marketing Sprinkl'ins, a yogurt for children filled with fruit, sugar, and mix-in candy bits. An employee at Grey Advertising, Dannon's agency, told a New York Times reporter, "Yogurt hasn't been very kid-friendly in the past because the taste was too sour. This is a way of creating a new generation of yogurt eaters." The inside of the package holding four small cups of Sprinkl'ins was printed with games and puzzles.

                          Nutritionists had nothing good to say about Sprinkl'ins; one compared it to junk food because of its high sugar content. Children, however, responded enthusiastically. Nationally introduced in 1993, Sprinkl'ins had sales of $43.9 million that year"

                          this hyper sweetening and artificialization of food products is emblematic of the decline in quality and healthfulness of many previously natural healthful foods - turning yoghurt into candy is not helping kids eat yoghurt it is just feeding kids more candy.

                          1. re: JTPhilly

                            Didn't you organize your crafts beads and buttons in recycled yogurt containers?

                  2. re: JTPhilly

                    Yes, that is my main gripe when passing by the dairy aisle too. I wish both the consumers and manufacturers could change that mentality.

                    1. re: vil

                      I hope that the whole "sugar bad, fat good" trend will help spur a shift - I do not understand removing the fat (with all of its nutrients) just to return the calories with tons of sugar and attempt to restore the texture with countless emulsifiers and then market it is a "health food". The food companies always claim "consumer preference" but I don't buy it - its all about profit.

                      1. re: JTPhilly

                        Unlikely to change soon, people love their sugar unfortunately.

              2. If it says Product of China I usually put it back.

                6 Replies
                1. re: miss_belle

                  not only do i put foods back that are the Products of China, i now also put cooking utensils and pots back that are the Products of China.

                  1. re: westsidegal

                    My partner & I also operate our own boycott of a country's products and havnt knowingly bought any in decades.

                    1. re: Harters

                      Is this difficult to do in the UK? Avoiding MIC products in the US is challenging to say the least I don't recall seeing too much in the way of USA food product in Europe but I also never really looked - I don't blame you though its quite interesting to compare USA vs Euro versions of the same product - not to mention the whole GMO thing

                    2. re: westsidegal

                      ...and that's because it might be tainted?

                      Can't say I'm a fan of what I read on the nutrition label of the average food product from the US either.

                    3. re: miss_belle

                      Same here, and when necessary, I look for alternatives made in Taiwan (although I am less and less sure about whether that is fine anymore).

                      Also, I notice that many labels these days say "Product of P.R.C." instead.

                      1. re: vil

                        I'm noticing more and more products labeled "Distributed by so and so USA" so you have no idea where it actually originated. But they want you to think USA. I avoid some of that stuff like the plague too.