In my wellness workshops one thing I often focus on is, reading food labels. I travel with various food boxes, cartons, bottles and packages (the original food is long gone) but the ingredient paragraph and Nutrition Facts remain. My audiences love this portion of the class. People are always shocked when they READ THE INGREDIENT PARAGRAPH! Last week the CSPI filed a class action lawsuit
against Vitamin Water
(Coca-Cola Company) citing “deceptive and unsubstantiated claims”.
Coke calls the lawsuit “ridiculous and ludicrous” claiming that “consumers can readily see the Nutrition Fact panels on every bottle of Vitamin Water.” I agree that the label is present and visible. However, just because someone can see the label doesn’t mean they actually read the label, let alone know how to analyze the label.
Here’s a statement from one of the people involved in the lawsuit:
“When I bought Vitamin Water, frankly I thought I was doing myself a favor health-wise,” […] “I was attracted by the prospect of getting extra vitamins. But I had no idea that I was actually getting almost a Coke’s worth of sugar and calories. There’s no way I would have spent money on that, had I known.”
This echos exactly what I hear over and over from people in my classes after we’ve spent time reading and analyzing food labels. There are many proactive things you can do to create good health. Reading the ingredient paragraph on food products is a great place to start. Seriously, go to your pantry right now and take a minute to see what is really in your cupboards. Also, next time you are in the grocery store don’t be so quick to just drop boxes and packages into your cart – read the ingredients first!
Now, I have to say, eating real, whole food is always the way to go. But, if and when you do eat something with a bar code this is what I recommend.
1. Always read the ingredient paragraph first!- The numbers and percentages in the Nutrition Facts are often manipulated depending on serving size and labeling laws. For example, the Nutrition Fact panel may say 0 g trans fat but when you look at the ingredient paragraph you often see partially hydrogenated oil (a trans-fat). The ingredient paragraph reveals more about the product than the Nutrition Facts. The Nutrition Facts can be helpful later on (when looking at sugar grams and serving size) but train your eye to seek out the ingredient paragraph first!
2. Things to avoid in the ingredient paragraph - If the first 1-4 ingredients are sugar or a sugar derivative it is a high sugar product, and probably something you shouldn’t be eating in large amounts. FYI sugar is the second ingredient listed in Vitamin Water. If you see artificial sweeteners, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, dyes (red dye #40, etc) avoid these ingredients as well. Always look for the words “partially hydrogenated” that means the product contains trans-fats, and it should be avoided. Any words that you can’t pronounce and have 23+ letters should also be avoided. Bottom line, avoid or at least limit products with these “junk ingredients” as much as possible.
3. Note how many sugar grams are in the product- In general 10 grams of sugar per serving is the maximum limit, even that is pushing it; the more you can avoid sugar the better! Most packaged foods and drinks typically have 25 g, 45 g even 75 g of sugar per serving. Be extra cautious about products that sound/look healthy, yo Vitamin Water I’m look’n at you – 33 g of sugar per bottle! Be aware of how many sugar grams you are eating/drinking but more importantly look at the serving size! If it says 15 g of sugar but has 4 servings, you will consume 60 g of sugar if you eat/drink the whole product – that’s way too much sugar!
4. What about fat, calories, sodium, carbs, etc in the Nutrition Facts? The body uses food ingredients NOT numbers! Real, whole food, gives your body ingredients it can actually digest and use. Chemicals may create more zero’s in the Nutrition Fact panel but your body can’t use chemicals to maintain optimal health. Real food always has and always will have a ratio of fat, protein, carbohydrates, sodium and calories, these are not “bad things”, what is bad is the “junk ingredients” (processed sugars, sodium-like preservatives, trans-fat, chemicals, artificial sweeteners). Therefore read the ingredient paragraph and determine if you are eating actual food ingredients or “junk ingredients.”
Coca-Cola can call their products anything they want, i.e. Vitamin Water, and through various labeling laws they can make numbers look appealing. That doesn’t change the fact that the second ingredient in Vitamin Water is still crystalline fructose, otherwise known as, SUGAR!
This blatant discrepancy is the basis of the current lawsuit. Unfortunately Vitamin Water is not the only product doing this. There are hundreds of processed packaged food and drinks that market themselves as “healthy” but the ingredients don’t match up.
Moral of the story, READ THE INGREDIENT PARAGRAPH! It pretty much tells you everything you need to know
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About the author
Jolene Park, B.A., Certified Nutrition Consultant, Yoga Teacher founded Healthy Discoveries in 2001. She facilitates health and nutrition workshops for companies large and small across the U.S., and provides wellness and nutrition coaching for individuals and multiple medical offices throughout the greater Boulder/Denver area. Learn more.