May 17, 2011


On Thursday night, I went to Whole Foods for a Health Starts Here tour with Becky, one of our Healthy Eating Specialists. She gave us a tour of the store and showed us some things to look for that support our healthy eating plan, not only in terms of store signage but also with regards to the ingredient lists on packaged food items.

One thing that really struck me was when she picked up a package of Kashi cereal and pointed out that the last three items in the list were all sweeteners: ingredients are listed in order from most to least by how much of the product is made up of them, and so by labeling them as their individual sweetener names instead of a combination, the company is able to avoid having the sweetener higher on the list. It may well be that much of the cereal is made up of the sweetener, but instead, they get around that. And it's not always as easy as looking for "sugar" or even "high fructose corn syrup."

I'm wrapping up Week 1 today, and label reading has become an even more important part of my shopping trip now. If I am buying something packaged, I always look at the calories - starting last Wednesday, I have also had to check and make sure there's no dairy. It's easy enough with the big things - obviously milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are not going to be in my cart. But the pasta sauce I usually buy? Apparently there's parmesan cheese in it. And the protein bar I have after my long run? Whey.

I think label reading is super important whether you are on a plant-based diet or not. It's good to know what's in the food you're putting in your body. I try to eat whole foods as much as possible, especially after having a realization about fat-free sour cream (cream is full of fat, so what is fat-free sour cream full of?!). I'd rather have less of something real than more of something that's mostly chemical.

And I think it's important to note, too, that I'm talking lowercase whole foods here - it's awesome that Whole Foods (the store) is taking this initiative to educate the public about plant-based clean eating, but keep in mind that you don't have to shop *at* Whole Foods in order to buy whole foods. We've all heard the trick of sticking to the perimeter of the store when we go grocery shopping - that's where the fresh and not-overly-processed stuff is. That applies no matter where you shop.

A lot of people think that Whole Foods is more expensive than other stores, and while that is true for some items, there are a lot of things that are a better deal there. (I'm not being paid to say that. It's my own observation.) I'm lucky enough to live in a Mexican neighborhood with lots of inexpensive fresh produce, but the trade off is that some special products cost more. So I'm sticking to Pete's Fresh Market for my fruits and veggies, but blocks of tofu at Whole Foods cost less than half of the price at my local Jewel.

What about you? Do you look at labels when you grocery shop? Are there any items you decided not to buy after looking at what's inside?


Amy said...

That's actually surprising about Kashi, a great observation on their part... at least it's a better type of sweetener than the ones that you can't pronounce.

We have a store called Farm Boy here and it sounds a lot like Whole Foods. I generally try to eat un-processed foods myself but when I slack processed foods sneak their way into my diet, and my body really feels the difference!

Anonymous said...

Those sneaky things they do make me so mad. Like packaging a small cookie and calling it 2 servings. Unnecessary trickery.

The biggest label shock I've had was with pop tarts. Obviously they're bad - duh - but I was not prepared for something like 70+ grams of carbs. That's like all sugar. Yikes.

Meghan said...

I read the labels on everything. It makes me sick when I think of the crap I used to eat! I'm still not perfect when it comes to making choices but without a doubt I've made huge progress.

Roxie Morrow said...

OMG, I learned something today and am sooooooo happy!!! Thanks for sharing the info about the ingredients list for Kashi cereal!! Whoa!!!
I didn't know the trick they do to individualize the ingredients so they can put it at the end and make you think there is "less" of it in there.
I feel so exhuberated right now!!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!
I buy so many Kashi products, but will be looking at every single teeny tiny ingredient listed now....thanks to YOU!!!

I DO read labels on everything I buy, I will not eat anything that is not whole.


Amanda said...

Wow, I've been reading labels for a while now, but knowing that the most used ingredients were listed first kept me from looking at ALL the ingredients. I had no idea companies were combating this with tricks like that...though I guess if I were a good product marketer I'd do the same thing. ;)

Thanks so much for sharing this info, I'll definitely be looking more thoroughly now!

timothy said...

i avoid anything fat free because it's always higher in sugars which i do NOT eat. i basically try not to buy processed foods so the list of ingredients isn't usually important. i use a sugar free mayo/cesar dressing and mustard (dieters best friend no carbs/calories!)and anything with an ose in it i put back. another thing totals don't match many times something will say 0g carbs but the lngredients will list sugar alcohol well i'm not falling for that.i also do a cost evaluation, i love this food but it has twice the calories of this choice do i enjoy it twice as much? not usually so i'll opt for the better choice except on rare occasions. it's an ongoing learning process for us all, thanks for sharing hon great info! xoxoxoxo

Tim said...

Before I did my veggie for a month challenge, I didn't read a single label but since then I tend to check them more often.

BTW, Whey was the most frustrating thing EVER during my challenge. So many nice things have it in :(