Sleuthing Food Labels for Health

News that Whole Foods overcharged customers by mislabeling product weights brought groans from folks who thought they could shop with confidence at Whole Foods Markets. Over 20 years ago, I had a brief stint working the cash register at a Bread and Circus recently converted to a Whole Foods Market. Even then, I found that I was better off shopping the perimeter. Foods in the center aisles of the store: cereals, soups, salad dressings, canned goods, frozen foods, etc. all contained multiple forms of sugar, guaranteed to stimulate an appetite for more food, bigger servings, and insatiable appetites. Such foods reliably create health problems when consumed regularly.

When health food stores first opened, they offered mostly whole foods stored in bins. Produce came from local sources. Co-ops weekly sent a truck to the nearest bulk supplier. As demand rose for quality foods, suppliers began to deliver directly to health food stores and co-ops. At the same time, boxed, bottled and canned foods made their entrance with over 30 different forms of sugar added.

As a cashier, I noticed that many people came through with a cart full of junk food, sometimes not one whole food, just lots of boxes, cans and bottles. Invariably they would beam gratitude that they could shop at such a wonderful place for their family, even though they had to struggle financially to do it. Everything on the shelves at Whole Foods was the best food money could buy. I was in no position to advise them otherwise.

Today, wherever we shop, we must check labels. This week, I realized that the delicious peanut butter I have trustingly bought at natural food stores and snacked on by the spoonful for years, contains sugar. Sleuthing, I found only one brand that is just made of ground peanuts.

Food guru, Michael Pollan, cautions us to avoid packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients listed on their labels. Chances are, anything more will include extra sugars and chemicals we don’t need. This year, supermarkets rearranged their shelves to sandwich organic foods in with everything else. This means that people must slowly shop over the whole store and may, on impulse, buy foods they normally avoid. Stores try to market eye level products more heavily. Better choices are on top and bottom shelves.

The good news is that Farmers Markets and farm stands are in full swing. We now have many opportunities to enjoy the flavor of fresh berries, a mess o’ peas, and a choice array of vegetables and home grown produce free of additives. Best of all, the farmer will be there to field our questions.

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