Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Side of the Box Holds More Value than the Front!!

I was recently having a great conversation with my "little brother" - 22 months littler - about whole grains. We were chatting about all the crap that the food industry dishes out to us to confuse us or coax us into buying a product with the claim of better health via a known "good-for-you" nutrient, such as fiber. Recently even I was deceived by the "front of the box" because I wasn't fully educated as it related to the "side of the box", specifically fiber claims. There is a bevy of advertising out there claiming the health benefits of the fiber content of a food product: granola bars, cereal, yogurt, even ice cream! Ice cream and yogurt with fiber? Give me a break!

I subscribe to a great monthly newsletter called Nutrition Action Healthletter. I've received it for some time, but last year it gained further credibility with me when a seasoned and locally well-respected registered dietitian that I studied under recommended it as well. Also recently, Nutrition Action has done a few exposes on artificial sweeteners, food additives and most recently, "fake" fibers, as I will call them. And to my surprise, I had been had! Polydextrose, maltodextrin and inulin are a few of the chemically modified starches and substances that are being added to foods. They can be classified as fiber because the modifications made to them prevent our bodies from absorbing them. Interestingly, because they're not whole grain fibers or fibers from real foods, the research that proves fiber can aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of certain cancers, like colon cancer, doesn't apply to these additives. The manufacturers certainly want us to think their fake-fiber-containing-products carry all the health benefits of whole grains, however. I had purchased Thomas's English Muffins containing inulin as the added fiber, and one of the higher fiber cereals with the same claim, containing polydextrose and chicory root extract, I believe, as the additional fiber sources. Bummer!

Personally, for my husband and I, I want our nutrients to come from whole foods whenever possible, not fake-anything. And the only way to ensure this is to read the label. The front of the box and all of it's claims are where the "flash & glass" are. But it's the side of the box - not just the "Nutrient Facts" required of food manufacturers - but the ingredients list, where the truth lies. I look for products with the fewest ingredients, and those with which I'm familiar. And I don't subscribe to the adage I hear from so many: "it's so confusing" (waaaah!), "I don't understand or know what any of those ingredients/chemicals are" (waaaah, again!). Well, if you can drive a car, use your ATM at the checkout and operate a cell phone, I'm sure you can find a computer and Google the words, ingredients or terms you don't know. I carry a list with me a the grocery and pencil and check off my list as I go through. If I come across an ingredient I don't know, I write it down. Or if I bought the product, I have it with me, and I look it up when I get home. It's not that hard, it just requires a little diligence, but only once! You end up learning, and not becoming an excuse-laden victim.

So, kudos to both my brother and I, for being humble enough to admit we'd been had, but smart enough (even though he's smarter than I am) to continue to dig and learn about what's healthiest for our families. And his growing family has more at steak than my immediate two person and cat family, as his little one year son, Jack, needs to grow up a healthy little boy so he can take care of his aunt as she ages! (Check him out at his "Jack Attack" blog - he's adorable!)

1 comment:

Jim Purdy said...

Wow! What an interesting article. I especially liked this statement:

"The front of the box and all of it's claims are where the "flash & glass" are. But it's the side of the box - not just the "Nutrient Facts" required of food manufacturers - but the ingredients list, where the truth lies."

I agree with most of your article, but I'm not quite so negative about inulin and polydextrose. From the research studies I've read, both inulin and polydextrose seem to have a lot of digestive benefits. I hope so, anyway, because I've started a new diet that contains lots of polydextrose.

Thanks for all the good information.