More than ever, Seattlites are concerned with their health. And the food we consume is a large part of being healthy!
Being in such a foodie culture, we are inundated with tempting foods at restaurants, food co-ops and at each of the many neighborhood farmers markets throughout the city.
Nationwide we are recognizing that the healthier we eat, the better we live, and more of us want to get that. In fact, four out of ten consumers say that the availability of health-related information on labels is very important when choosing a grocery store (according to the 2010 National Consumer Survey by the National Grocers Association and SupermarketGuru).
In fact, according to the same survey, 51% of consumers are reading nutrition labels to determine the level of preservatives and additives in the produces they purchase. The FDA reported recently that 54% of consumers read nutrition labels upon first encountering a new product. This number is 10% higher than it was in 2002.
To better understand the facts around nutrition labels, the Lempert Report has offered the following:
- Realistic Serving Size – Are you actually eating just one serving of the products in the box or bag you have purchased? Many individually portioned bags and boxes actually contain two or more of the suggested serving size, upon which all nutrition labels are based.
- Sugar – Added vs. Natural – Once sugar enters the body, it is processed as a sugar, regardless of where it comes from. However, according to nutrition labels, one is almost never certain whether the product he/she is about to consume contains added sugars, those that occur naturally or a combination of the two. The effect on the body, however, is very different between naturally occurring and added sugars. Sugars that come from fruits, vegetables, grains and milk products come with the added benefit of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals provided by whole foods.
- Zero Plus Zero Should Equal Zero – Legally, producers of foods containing less than .5 grams of trans- or other fats (as well as many other nutrients) are allowed to report that the product contains zero. While the industry claims that the infinitesimal amount is inconsequential, “dietetically trivial or physiologically insignificant“, eating more than one serving may not equal zero.
- Would You Like Some Caffeine With That? – Many products beyond those we would expect (coffee, tea, energy drinks, even coal) contain caffeine. Those brownies you have been enjoying each evening after dinner, the mocha chip ice cream that you savor, could both contain more caffeine than you would anticipate. Would knowing that the products you are consuming contain caffeine limit your intake? Or encourage you to enjoy those products at different times in the day?
- Interactions With Ingredients – Many of the pharmaceutical drugs that are popular today can hinder the absorption of nutrients (and vice versa). While the prescription labels may offer warnings, how many food labels do? Ingredients such as artificial colorings or flavorings are such ingredients found in many foods that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
The SupermarketGuru is encouraging the FDA and food producers to begin more fully labeling their products in order that consumers can make informed decisions, giving them the opportunity to choose foods appropriate to their health and dietary needs.
Worth noting is labels on produce that relate to the the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Contrary to what may be generally accepted, the 5-digit PLU code on produce does not tell you whether the fruit you are about to consume has been genetically modified.
The 4-digit code on apples, for example, will tell you which type of apple you are purchasing, a Fuji, Honeycrisp, or Golden Delicious. This gives the checker at the store information related to cost and inventory, perhaps, but not whether it is natural or genetically modified.
Note that a 5-digit code, beginning with the number 9 indicates an organic fruit or vegetable.
While it has yet to be used (or made law), PLU codes which are 5-digit numbers beginning with the number 8 distinguish GMOs from non-GMO products. Since most Americans have indicated that they will steer clear of GMOs if they were aware of them, this is not something that the produce companies, let alone the seed companies, are willing to note or admit so openly.
The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) has a long list of GMO and non-GMO brands (by category) that the public has access to in making more informed grocery shopping decisions. Or check out the ShopNoGMO application for the iPhone!
For now, know that the four GMO vegetables and fruits at our access are:
- Papaya – only from Hawai’i
- Some zucchini
- Some yellow squash
- Some corn on the cob
Unless these products say organic or boast non-GMO, eating them is no guarantee that you are steering clear of the GMOs.