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Food Labels: The Only Thing You Need To Know

by | Sep 23, 2013

Photo by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

It’s no secret that my favorite foods rarely have labels. Whenever possible I recommend starting with raw ingredients from the produce aisle, fish counter and butcher, and building your meal from scratch. Seasonal ingredients from your local farmers market are better still, and tastier to boot.

But I’m also aware that we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that aren’t particularly conducive to healthy eating. Eventually most of us will end up staring blankly at the back of a plastic container or cardboard box, wondering what evils will descend upon us if we choose this packaged morsel over another.

Food labels have become stupidly complicated, not to mention misleading. Instant oatmeal mixes have “30% more protein” (huh?). Several brands of granola and crackers at my favorite health food store include “love” on their ingredient list (how is this legal?). Products without any animal-based ingredients proudly showcase that they’re “cholesterol free,” as if it were possible for plants to produce cholesterol (or dietary cholesterol even had a measurable impact on your health). And sometimes it seems like every processed food under the sun has the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval (Thanks guys, real helpful.).

Don’t kid yourself, these labels are not about health. They’re about selling more food at higher prices. The data consistently show that people (that includes you and me) are willing to pay more for a product if we think it has a special health benefit. Unless the system changes, expected to be bombarded with misleading food labels for the rest of time.

Fortunately, navigating the insanity is fairly simple.
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