Do you read the nutrition and ingredients label on the food you buy? If you have food allergies, celiac, diabetes, or are lactose intolerance, you should. There are listings of nutrition, ingredients and possibly an allergy warning on every packaged or canned food you purchase. The ingredients are listed in descending order by the amount of each in the food. Some foods have additives such as fillers, flavoring agents, stabilizers, color enhancers, sugars, binding agents, and preservatives. While these additives serve the purpose of extending the shelf life or quality of the product, you need to know they are there and what they are.
Read the Ingredients label!
For a comparison of ingredients in the foods you eat, pick up a can of vegetables like tomatoes and check the ingredients. If the ingredients are tomatoes, tomato juice, citric acid and a salt, there are no added fillers. The citric acid is the natural preservative. If you had chosen a can of mushrooms, you might have seen these ingredients: mushrooms, water, calcium disodium EDTA (for color). Again, there are no extra fillers. Next, look at ketchup bottle ingredients. It may include tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, and natural flavoring. In ketchup, there are 4 grams of sugar and 5 grams of carbohydrates, per tablespoon. If you are a diabetic, the amount of sugar in foods is important to know.
Look for allergens!
Next, find a dry mixture such as pizza dough. The listing shows flour, added vitamins, oil, leavening, active dry yeast, and salt. However under the ingredients is an allergy warning which informs the reader that the product also contains wheat and MAY contain traces of milk, eggs, walnuts, peanuts and soy. All of these ingredients are foods that are commonly known allergens. Even though these foods may not be in the package, they are used in the same food plant and may even be made on the same equipment that processes or packages the pizza dough. These warnings are put on food packages to warn the consumer of the possible dangers of an allergic reaction to their product. Some individuals also have a sensitivity to added food colorings, so be aware of them as well.
Phenylketonuira and Celiac Disorders
Look at the ingredients on a bottle of sugar-free syrup. There is water, sorbitol, natural and artificial flavors, aspartame, salt, citric acid, carmel color, and several added ingredients. The important part of this food label is the warning preceded by an asterisk * below the ingredients. It reads, “*Phenylketonurics: contains phenylalanine.” Individuals with the disorder Phenylketonuira (also known as PKU), should not eat that food. Phenylalanine is also found in some soft drinks, so check those labels as well. Another food-related problem is celiac disease, and these individuals cannot tolerate gluten. Packages of food now list gluten as an added ingredient on the label. Manufacturers also produce foods that are gluten-free, for individuals with celiac disease to purchase.
Agar is a food additive derived from red algae or seaweed. It is commonly an added ingredient in foods like jellies, soups, and ice cream, and is a vegetarian gelatin substitute. Gelatin is usually made from an animal product and an allergen. Agar or Agar-agar serves the same purpose as gelatin, and is an added ingredient that helps the food to thicken. Another common food additive is wax. It is also used as an exterior coating to keep vegetables, such as cucumbers, fresh longer. It is also used to help keep apples fresh. The wax is usually bees wax or carnauba wax. Produce does not have nutrition or ingredients labels, as it is not necessary. However, when you handle the food, if wax is present, it is palpable to the touch and can be washed off or peeled.
Wash your produce and hands
All produce should be washed before using, as some of the “additives” are not added by the manufacturer. Fruit and vegetables are often harvested by hand, are exposed to roaming animals, or have been treated to extend the shelf life. The consumers should also wash their hands before preparing the produce for eating, as they could be the final source of unwanted additives or contamination, such as bacteria.
To be a conscious consumer, READ the labels on your food containers. READ the nutrition and ingredients to be sure you are keeping your family safe from potential allergens. This is especially important if allergies or celiac are prominent in your extended family. Taking just a few minutes of time, when youre shopping,and preparing food, could help keep your family healthier and safer.