Food Labels: Do You Know What’s in Your Food?

by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS., RD, LD, via The Huffington Post,

Think back to what you had for dinner last night. Try to remember everything on your plate—the protein, the carbohydrates and the fat. Now ask yourself—where did it all come from? If you had a vegetable, do you know if it came from a farm near your house or perhaps did it travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to make it into your grocery store? If you had chicken, do you know if it grazed outdoors or was locked up? If your food came from a box, did you read the label first and if so, did you understand all the ingredients? The fact is most of us either don’t know or don’t want to know where our food comes from. To many of us, food is something that can be found in a box, thrown in the microwave and consumed in front of the TV.

Two questions I encourage everyone to ask when they sit down for a meal or snack are:

  1. Where did my food come from and
  2. Is it a whole food or is it processed?

What is food and where is it coming from?

Celebrated author Michael Pollan once said that if food came from a plant, eat it and if it was made in a plant, do not. Although humorous, this phrase sums up the current state of our food industry. Pollan’s advice actually has widespread implications and examines the very question: What is food? A strong argument could be made that even though processed foods may begin as whole food, it is altered in such a way that the end result does not even resemble food.

Advances in science have allowed the food industry to evolve — making food easier and cheaper to grow and with more desirable characteristics in terms of shelf life and freshness. These advances sometimes cost you as well. Consider the average cracker on the market today. It has on average eight or more ingredients, several of which are additives for taste, color or shelf life. Additionally, the cracker is most likely made with refined non-whole grains and will cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin followed by a rapid fall. This rise and fall may cause you to be hungry again soon and overall less satisfied. It also may contribute to inflammation if foods such as the cracker are typical in your diet.

Finally, that cracker may be loaded with saturated fats, trans fats (hydrogenated oils) and a whopping amount of sodium. All of these put you at risk for heart disease, stroke and hypertension. Think about it, that’s just your cracker — what else are you eating throughout the day that has numerous ingredients, many of which you don’t have a clue even what they are?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines food processing as the following: Any of a variety of operations by which raw foodstuffs are made suitable for consumption, cooking or storage. Food processing generally includes the basic preparation of foods, the alteration of a food product into another form (as in making preserves from fruit), and preservation and packaging techniques.

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