Reading Labels

You know what’s frustrating? Thinking you are making a good choice to only find out you’re not.

A couple of weeks ago I was cooking something that required kidney beans. I usually use canned beans because they are a time saver. I opened the can, measured out what I needed and sat the can on the counter until I could put the rest away.

I got everything going on the stove and turned back to the open can of beans. The ingredient label caught my eye and what did I see? High Fructose Corn Syrup. In my beans. Why in the world do you need to add High Fructose Corn Syrup to beans? And how did such a thing get by me, the dedicated trainer and food detective?

My point is that sometimes what we get is not necessarily what we expected, especially when it comes to food. It never occurred to me to check the ingredient list on a can of kidney beans. My assumption (assuming-first mistake) was that beans would be just that. That is why all of us need to be aware and armed with the knowledge about how to spot “hidden” ingredients, like fat and sugar.

Now I have an exercise that I think will help me make my point. You will see below the ingredient lists for two products. One is a snack bar from a popular weight management program. The other is a candy bar. First, I want to see if you can determine which one is which.

Bar 1:

Chocolate Flavored Coating [Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Lactose, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor], Corn Syrup, Soy Protein Isolate, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Fructose, Water, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Polydextrose, Fructooligosaccharides, Ground Corn, Maltodextrin, Whey Protein Isolate, Whole Wheat Flour, Enzyme Modified Soy Protein, Non Fat Milk, Sugar, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Brown Sugar, Tapioca Starch, Graham Flour, Glycerine, Partially Hydrolyzed Milk Protein Isolate, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Canola Oil, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Salt, Inulin, Cocoa Butter, Titanium Dioxide, Milk Dextrin, Calcium Caseinate, Fractionated Palm Oil, Honey, Sodium Bicarbonate, Pectin, Wheat Starch, Unsweetened Chocolate, Whey, Tartaric Acid, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols Added to Protect Flavor

Bar 2:

Sugar, Wafer (Wheat Flour, Maltodextrin, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Soy Lecithin, Baking Soda), Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil Alkalized Cocoa, Rice Flour, Non Fat Milk, Milk and 1% or Less of Soy Lecithin, Barley Malt, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Salt, Sorbitan Tristearate, Ground Peanuts.

Which bar is the candy bar and which is the “weight management” bar?

If you guessed the candy bar is bar 2 and the snack bar from the “weight management” program is bar 1, you are correct. Does it seem odd to anyone else that the ingredient list for the snack bar, from a company supposedly concerned with your health and weight loss, is twice as long as the candy bar? In my eyes neither one is a good choice, but the snack bar is being sold to you by a company that says it’s part of a healthy weight loss plan.

The thing that really bothers me is all the sugar in bar 1, the snack bar. Here is the second part of the quiz.

How many forms of sugar can you identify in bar 1?

My count is 9. I see 9 forms of sugar in the “weight management” product. They are: sugar, lactose, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, high maltose corn syrup, brown sugar and honey. Plus one artificial sweetener in the form of fructooligosaccharide.  You might be better off eating the candy bar.  After all at 190 calories it is only 60 calories more than the snack bar.  Actually, you are better off eating neither.

So my point is, you can’t take the food you buy and eat at face value. Just because something appears simple doesn’t mean they haven’t added things to it that shouldn’t be there. Or just because something is labeled diet or “weight management” it isn’t necessarily good for you. Do the work each and every time and get the facts about your food.

As for the beans, I bought a crook pot to make my own cooked beans from dried. No more high fructose corn syrup in my beans.

  • Patty

    Great tips, I’ll remember to REALLY look at the ingredient list instead of just blindly choosing. Thanks for posting!

  • Pamela

    You have to look all the time, I think they count on people blindly choosing.

  • berlinoise

    God, that’s scary! Of course you’re right – food companies bank on people not reading the labels, and most of the time they’re right. We humans are so lazy! There’s a lot to be said for eating unprocessed food.

  • Pamela

    I know, it’s hard to trust anything packaged anymore. And I hated admitting that I missed it the HFCS, but I guess we are all human.

  • Cindy

    You wouldn’t think that lowfat packaged foods can be high in sugar. Have to really label watch.

  • Bruce

    There’s an app for the iPhone called “don’t eat that”. It tells you whats derived from where, and whether the ingredient has some controversy surrounding it. Bar 2 has hydrogenated oils (trans fats which lead to free radicals thus the danger of trans fats)in it, while the ensure bar, I mean bar 1 has sugars and loads of added vitamins. Interestingly, Don’t Eat That highlights in reds (bad) the Fructooligosaccharides. “Fructooligosaccharides is an alternative sweetner that has less than 50% the sweetness of sugar. It is considered a prebiotic. A prebiotic is a non-digestable food that stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. It is not permitted in infant formula in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.” It’s only red because you don’t want it in infant formula.

  • Pamela

    iPhone apps can do so much to help us with health and fitness! Thanks for sharing that app. Thanks for the info on Fructooligosaccarides. Oddly I was doing some research on that topic today. Not good for infants but okay for adults it seems. It’s funny that you said Ensure, because that’s actually not it. Does Ensure have a similiar label?I’ll give a hit as to who actually makes bar 1-Valerie Bertinelli probably eats these bars. :)

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