Become Fluent in Food

Oh no.  I was at the grocery store with Ethan’s mom today, and when she asked if I wanted chips, I walked over to the shelf and began reading the ingredients of every bag until I found the most natural recipe possible.  I looked up when I found the winning chip bag, and saw other people just staring at me while they reached over me for their Tostitos.  Yep, it’s official: I’m one of “those people” now…

And what exactly are “those people”?  You know how you’re at the grocery store and you see that person who won’t let their kid near the kool-aid because it’s got red dye # whatever in it?  Or the families that go out to eat and insist that the waiter brings an ingredient list of their entrees before an order can be placed?  Okay, I’m not quite as crazy as that last one, but I remember not too long ago when I felt like going up to those people and saying, “Geez! Let the kid have his Kraft Macaroni for crying out loud! It’s freaking kid food!”  Now I’m not so sure “those people” are all that crazy… Maybe it’s because I’m turning into one! Noooooo!

Check out this label… concentrate, concentrate, concentrate! One thing I’ll have to investigate soon is: what does “Natural Flavors” mean exactly? That’s another confusingly common item on ingredient lists…

If more people were educated about health and nutrition, and were properly informed about the items headlining their diets, they would have the ability to make more informed decisions.  “Those people” would instead become regular people who just knew what they were eating; People who cared about their bodies and valued their health. This transformation starts with understanding what you’re putting in your mouth.  There are so many fancy, scientific terms on labels these days that knowing whether something is nutritious or not can be nearly impossible unless you speak Food fluently.  Here are three questions that I have been asking myself for the longest time about food, and I bet you have, too.  I will try to begin a Food Fact posting category to answer other questions as well.  Knowing this stuff can definitely point you in a healthy direction!

What is juice from concentrate?  Why do people say it’s not good for us?

When companies make juice, they have to ship it out to different places to have it bottled up to sell to hard-working grocery shoppers who don’t have the luxury of growing fruit to juice in their own backyards.  This whole shipping thing can get pretty expensive since juice is so heavy, and today’s world is all about saving a buck.  What the big companies do is extract all the water out of the juice to make the load a little (or a lot) lighter for the trip.  Once the “juice” gets where it needs to go, workers add water to the mix to rehydrate and restore the drink to its consumable state.

Okay, so it looks like juice from concentrate should be the same as raw juice, right?  I mean, they put all the water back, so everything should be fine, right? Not so much.  As soon as the water is evaporated, the pulp is separated out and the juice is then pasteurized.  After that, some of the pulp is added back in, and the whole mess is stored in big metal containers for a long time, until the company needs to reconstitute it.  So many nutrients are lost during the process that it’s nowhere near comparable to raw juice.

You can taste the difference, too.  Try making some fresh orange or apple juice at home.  It will spoil you and ruin you for concentrated juices forever!

Okay, so now what is this whole pasteurizing thing?

In a nutshell, pasteurization heats up a liquid in order to kill bacteria and other chemicals.  It’s done to milk (from an animal) to make it safe, but why fruit juice (not from an animal)?  Well, it’s because juices have a considerably longer shelf life than raw juice, so they need to stay fresh and not be growing little fuzzy moldies all over themselves after a couple days.  Why is pasteurized juice not as good for you as raw?  Basic food rule: the more you do to a food, changing it from its original state, the more nutrients are lost.  If an apple goes through the juicer at home, the person enjoying their yummy snack will be getting almost all of the nutrients and vitamins from that apple as it contained on the tree.  If that same person goes to the store for a gallon of apple juice that has been evaporated, heated, and re-mixed together, the amount of nutrients lost during all the processing of that apple juice will absolutely contain far less nutrients.  Not to mention that most concentrated, pasteurized juices come with lots of refined sugar added to them.  With all those nutrients disappearing, companies have to find something to replace them with… why not refined sugar?

There are tons of words that all mean the same thing: added sugar.  What does sugar look like on food labels?

Sugar is a nasty little fiend.  He tries to hide out and make his way into a large portion of your diet, and if you aren’t careful, he will succeed!  Here’s what you need to look for on food labels.  If these words are listed as an ingredient, there is added sugar in yo food! Take heed!

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

(This list courtesy of Harvard’s nutrition site!)

Don’t get me wrong, some sugars are natural and your body can definitely prosper with it.  All fruits have fructose in them (not high-fructose corn syrup– just fructose).  Glucose is also a natural form of sugar found in fruits, and Sucrose is just a combination of the two I just mentioned.  Any other sugars you might see on labels are refined.  This means “not-so-good-for-you”.  Refined sugars aren’t natural, and large amounts of them have been said to be a big contributor to obesity.  These refined sugars are something I have been actively attempting to remove from my diet for the past month.  It’s definitely a challenge, but one worth pursuing if you ask me!

Health can be so frustrating sometimes.  A lot of my friends want desperately to be healthy, and think they are making informed decisions about the foods they eat.  They get extremely frustrated when their weight doesn’t go down, and their other health stats linger in limbo.  Unfortunately, misinterpretation of the Food language is a common mistake, and can make health completely misleading.  Knowing and understanding one of the most critical and necessary aspects of human life is the first step to finding health and fixing your body!

I decided to embrace being one of “those people”, rather than fight it. It’s “those people” who will be around a lot longer and will have a lot less health complications throughout their lives, and I don’t see any shame in joining “that group”!

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2 thoughts on “Become Fluent in Food

  1. Awesome article! You should write for a nutrition magazine. Very informative and entertaining too. Keep writing…we love it and want more!

  2. Great information!! Love your writing style and enthusiasm! I am learning more and more with every article! Keep them coming!!

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