When I hit the grocery store, I try (“try” being the operative word here) to channel my inner Michael Pollan/Alice Waters/Marion Nestle and stick to the perimeter of the store, carefully avoiding the wasteland that is the middle aisles. But it’s hard, I’m not gonna lie. My kids like granola bars and crackers and cereal. (Heck, I like granola bars and crackers and cereal… A lot.) So I read labels, figuring if I can pronounce the ingredients (and have a general idea of what they actually are), I’m golden.
Holly Davis also reads the labels…and friends, when it comes to reading said labels, she blows me out of the water. Forget Pollan/Waters/Nestle, on my next trip to the store I’m going to ask myself “WWHD?” (A.K.A. “What would Holly do?”)
Read on, and you will too…
by Holly Pellham Davis
Instinctively, I am adverse to labels. I just don’t trust them, especially when it comes to foods.
In today’s label frenzy we see, “gluten free”, “farm raised”, “free range”, “Grade A”, ““Grade B”, “DHA Added”, “no added ___”, “100% fruit juice”, “support cancer research”, and the most abused, “all natural”. The labels main purpose is not to inform, it’s to sell. The food producer knows that if the branding and label are enticing enough, we won’t read the ingredients or check the fine print before you pop it in your shopping cart. They try to deceive us by implying that a food is a healthy choice because of these labels. It’s all marketing. And we “eat it up”.
For example, we see DHA added to just about everything these days. Fortified foods are all the rage, inferring good health with their consumption. Added omegas, probiotics, and vitamins have replaced yesterday’s fiber and antioxidant mega doses. Brain and gut health claims are king. Typically, foods are fortified or injected with a synthetic form of a vitamin. Because the human body doesn’t recognize it, it cannot assimilate it. For example, the all “natural” USP labeled vitamin is as synthetic as they come. Looking at many of these vitamins under a microscope, you see pieces of plastic like substances. They can become toxic in the body, causing the liver to work overtime in an effort to get rid of this invader.
The use of the word “natural” should be a red flag to consumers that marketers are at work, as there is no criteria or legal definition for natural. They could call poison, natural and often do.
To the best rules, there are exceptions, and labels are no different. Good labels are “organic”, “grass fed”, “wild”, and “NON GMO”. I look for organic, pasture-raised eggs, (not organic, cage-free, as they are still tightly confined in horrible conditions) and organic grass-fed beef vs. GM corn or grain fed cows. Organic grass fed ensures that the cow did not consume pesticide-laden grasses.
As far as fish goes, only “wild”, never farm raised makes it to my dinner table. Farm raised Tilapia and other popular fish are commonly fed meal or non-fish food to quickly fatten them up while being cooped up in contained areas making the water toxic with feces and algae. Some are also treated with hormones. Farmed fish have become the pork or pig of the sea.
A good label would have included the GMO label proposed in California. Proposition 37 was defeated by big bucks and big corporations, but all is not lost. We still have the most effective tool in our kit. Power of purchase. Power to choose items in the marketplace we are confident are GMO free. Just as social media drove the pink slime out of school lunch and fast food and high fructose corn syrup out of most bread, we can look for the “NON-GMO” label for verification. Purchase products with the Non-GMO seal when possible. GMOs are prohibited from use in organic foods, which is driving their popularity, but because there is no testing for the presence of GMOs in organic processed foods, this verification label becomes very important.
When you see a label, ask yourself, “is it selling me something, claiming something, or truly informing me of something?” Always read the fine print on processed, boxed, and packaged foods.
If buying prepared foods, request an ingredients list from stores or restaurants. We have a right to know what is being put into our bodies. Ask your server where the fish or beef is from. Inquire about the use of MSG or other chemical additives.
Look for restaurants that serve local, handmade, fresh food. Keep your food choices clean and pure. Look for good labels such as organic, in the produce, dairy, fish and meat department. Choose organic produce and let their beautiful colors do the advertising for them. Carefully read the fine print on labels and skip any product with health claims. Beware of foods that are fortified such as cereals, milk, yogurt, and breads. Real, whole foods do not need to be fortified.
At the end of the day, label yourself “empowered”, “informed”, and “absolutely fabulous.”
Holly Pellham Davis is the founder of Clean Fresh Living, Inc., a service focused on educating consumers and families on the importance of healthy, organic, sustainable living for life and generations to come. You can hear more from Holly on her Clean Fresh Living blog, twitter, and Facebook.