It’s time for the next Small Step toward big changes! You can read other posts in this series here. As Big Man and I work toward eating more Real Food, one of the very important parts of the journey is becoming aware of just exactly what food is — and isn’t.
Small Step: Read the labels (and understand what they mean)
Why: Food isn’t always what it seems. Most packaged foods contain tons of chemicals and ingredients that have been so highly processed they aren’t even recognizable as food anymore. There are other negative things as well, like inordinate amounts of sugar and multiple GMO ingredients.
Difficulty level: Moderate-to-high. Actually reading the labels on the packaging isn’t that hard, and doesn’t take very long. The difficult part is deciphering the terminology and doing the research to discover what terms like “hydrogenated” and “natural flavorings” actually mean. Since companies are not required to label genetically modified ingredients, it is important to research individual ingredients to understand which are genetically modified. Additionally, it is important to research food producers and understand their policies about GMO ingredients, “natural” flavorings, and labeling practices.
My results: To be honest, I’m still learning what all the terms mean, and I don’t yet have a memorized list of OK and Not OK ingredients. I rely heavily on internet searching! But I have made a few positive changes. I no longer buy anything without reading the label first. And I do not rely in terms like “all-natural” or even “organic” to make my decisions. Instead, I make sure I understand every ingredient on the label, especially ones that are most likely to be GM. I also make sure I do a little research on the company that produces the items I buy. As much as we can, we support local and/or small companies that encourage honest labeling. We try to stay away from “natural” brands that are owned by Big Food corporations (for example, “Naked Juice” is owned by PepsiCo).
Worth it? Yes, though this definitely requires a fair amount of commitment. It’s more work than just assuming everything sold at Sprouts or labeled “natural” is OK and GMO-free. Honestly, it’s disappointing to realize that items we enjoyed, and companies we used to trust (*cough* Celestial Seasonings *cough*) are not as healthy and natural as advertised.
One of the benefits of this research is an extra push to make homemade, from-scratch food as much as possible. I was doing that already with some things like bread and vanilla extract, but I’m now committed to a “homemade as much as possible” policy. We have drastically cut down on the amount of pre-made things we keep in the house, and it’s been a good change for us. I love that our kids are learning to enjoy more real food, and moving away from boxed food has really helped keep our budget in check.
Conclusion: Some parts of this learning process have been depressing, like learning that so much of what is said on a label is either meaningless or a downright lie. Learning that Big Food has poured millions of dollars into fighting laws that would require GMO ingredients to be labeled. Finding out that some out some of our local, so-called “natural” companies (like Boulder Canyon Chips) have been bought out by huge corporations with no love for real food. But past all that is a great sense of empowerment and knowledge. I’m confident that I can read a label and make an informed choice about whether or not I want to consume those ingredients. I’ve found new small companies and local farmers who are trustworthy and do produce real food without GMOs. And my list of homemade-instead-of-store-bought foods just keeps growing. Did I mention the homemade versions taste so much better?
If you’re ready for a challenge, start reading the labels and finding out what all those terms mean. That way, you can decide to buy or not based on facts, not advertising or some wishy-washy “claims” of health.
Whether you’re brand new to label-reading or have years of experience, I’d love to hear any wisdom you have to share!