FFTF #4 - A Case Study on Ingredient Labels*

(Note: TGIF Friends! And if it's Friday that means another edition of the Realistic FoodEs Food For Thought Friday - YAY!!! I am really loving these posts because it's a great way to share tasty bits that are not quite fully developed but important tools for your Real Food Toolbox. And this week's FFTF is my favorite so far. So let's get to it.)

I buy a particular brand of Gluten-Free bread that is stored in the frozen foods section. The brand is a little pricey, but we don't eat it everyday. So it fits within our budget. Anyway, I decided to look at other GF brands to compare and make sure that I am making the best decision.

I am not going to identify any of these brands because my point is not to bash any one product. This is an exercise in reading labels, particularly the ingredients. And when making Real Food choices, the ingredient labels should trump any other labeling on the package.

Bread is a processed food. So if I decide to buy bread, I want to choose the least processed brand. Here are photos of each ingredient label. Please take a few minutes to read them. Then apply the Real Food Guidelines, and Click on the image that you believe is the best choice.

So if you chose GF Bread #3, then Congratulations! You are reading ingredient labels at a Master Level :-)

Now let me just say though, GF Bread #3 is not perfectly Real Food because of the canola oil. This is a refined oil (i.e., involves chemical processing to produce) and should be avoided. Also, the milk and mozzarella cheese are not Paleo-friendly ingredients. But as I have said before - I'm not trying to be perfectly anything. I buy this because every so often, we like to sink our teeth into something bready. And of all these brands, GF #3 is the least-processed choice.

I know EVERY ingredient listed on this label. (BTW - Tapioca Starch is an alternative, non-grain, non-nut flour.) The fine print labeling states the milk, eggs and cheese are from local farms and suppliers. And the product's website provides additional info on the traceability of these ingredients. So I am comfortable with the sourcing for this product.

It's important to note the difference between marketing labels and the ingredients. GF Bread #1 is "Multigrain" and GF Bread #2 is "Whole Grain". But if you remember from the Real Food Guidelines: The only "whole grain" that matters is "100% whole grain" as listed in the ingredients. GF #1 even lists "Modified Tapioca Starch", which doesn't sound like a whole grain does it?

Both of these brands also offer guarantees of tasty satisfaction. Now these may very well be tasty - I don't know because I've never tried them. But notice the added sugars in both brands (sugar, molasses, tapioca maltodextrin, tapioca syrup, etc.) and chemical ingredients (xanthan gum, glucono-delta-lactone, modified food starch, etc.) These are not only unhealthy additives, but should also be a signal that these brands are closer to the ultra-processed end of the spectrum.

GF #2 also features a stamp stating "Whole Grains - 8g or more per serving". WholeGrainsCouncil.org sponsors this stamp. I've never heard of this organization, so I followed the crumbs to learn more. According to its website, this is a "non-profit consumer advocacy group working to increase the consumption of whole grains for better health." Which all sounds good and well. But the website also notes that it is part of the Oldways Program. So I followed a link to the Oldways Program website. This is another non-profit focused on food and nutrition education to inspire healthy eating. I also found a link to Funding Supporters of this Oldways Program. And I saw many large industrialized food manufacturing companies listed.

I stopped there because I saw enough to know that this stamp is not a valuable resource for my Real Food Toolbox. I am not saying that there is anything wrong or bad or suspect about this stamp. Or that this stamp undermines the quality of this product. It's just that I am not going to allow this stamp to trump my analysis of the ingredient label for this product. It doesn't change my mind, and I am still not going to buy this product.

Now, who would know this background info about the stamp? I only found out because I did the research for this article. But the takeaway should be that certifications and stamps should not be THE reason for deciding what food to buy or eat. Unless you are familiar with the Program AND the Program supports values that are important to you.

Not saying it's wrong to choose GF Bread #1 or #2. Especially if you must eat GF and #1 or #2 are the only choices available to you. But here, there is a third option. And this option, while more expensive than the others, is the least processed and fits within my budget.

So if you are serious about your Real Food journey, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS read the ingredients to choose the least processed brand. And any marketing on packages should support your decision, rather than persuade you to disregard the ingredient labels.

And one last meaty tidbit - A friend once remarked that it takes time to read all of these labels. And yes, it does. But it will get easier to make these choices as you progress and continue to hone your Real Food skills. In the meantime, however, if you start to read a label and it gets a little tiring, then that's probably a sign that the food product is not the best choice. I mean, compare how long it took to read GF Bread #3 vs. the others :-)

(Post Script: Reading ingredient labels is a paramount skill. So I will be posting many more articles about this. But I wanted to make sure to provide a substantive and constructive exercise on label reading early on, so you can start working on this now. Hope this was helpful. And as always - Post Comments to share your thoughts!)

AMAZON AFFILIATE PRODUCT LINK FOR TAPIOCA STARCH (FLOUR):

* THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS AMAZON AFFILIATE LINKS. WHICH MEANS IF YOU BUY ANY OF THESE PRODUCTS BY USING ONE OF THESE LINKS, I RECEIVE A COMMISSION. BUT AT NO EXTRA CHARGE TO YOU. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING MY BLOGGING ACTIVITIES!! PLEASE READ THE DISCLOSURE POLICY FOR MORE INFORMATION.