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24/12/2008

What you should know about labels for natural products

(NaturalNews) If you think that the labels on food packaging tell you everything you need to know about the food inside, you'd better think again. Food labels are Greek and Latin to most people. And that is an understatement. Recently, there has been a growing population interested in the food they eat, for a number of reasons, none the least of which is a concern for health.

If you walk through super market aisles, you will notice more and more people flip the food packet to look at the fine print. These people are obviously curious about what goes into the food, but not just that, they are eager to pack in some healthfulness into their diet as well. However, research shows that not all inquisitive shoppers pick the healthiest option. The reasons could vary from idle curiosity to a complete lack of knowledge and understanding about what truly lies beneath the façade of fancy names, pictures and labels that appear to tell all.

Consider this, for example: A food package that says "no added sugar" or "fat-free" could be very misleading. Especially to the eager beaver on a dieting spree, it would sound deliciously attractive. This is just a clever disguise to keep the artificial sweetener or the excess sugar (as in the case of fat-free) under wraps. There are umpteen cases of misinformation or more accurately, of revealing only partial truths, where consumers think they are buying good, clean, healthy, chemical-free food, only to later find out that they were royally fooled.

When a juice bottle, for instance, claims to have "no added sugar or color", please do yourself a favor and look on the back of the bottle. In all probability, you will see aspartame or some other artificial sweetener in there. Keep it back on the shelf. Although there is a huge lobby that defends the use of aspartame in food, there is an equally vociferous one that says, "do not consume" because it has disastrous consequences for health. Better err on the side of caution and steer clear of food that has it.

The next thing you need to look for is the "E" followed by a number on the label, also commonly known as the E Number in food. What is the E Number? Again, nobody knows exactly what that is, but it's supposedly additives and chemicals (including food coloring) that are "safe" to consume. Take that with a pinch of salt. A little bit of suspicion will go a long way. Food additives such as coloring in particular have been associated with ADHD in children. And when combined with synthetic preservatives, they can be lethal. Furthermore, there is no law that binds food manufacturers to declare the use of preservatives on the label.

Another thing that should raise the red flag is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a sugar substitute used to sweeten a product excessively.

Dr. Andrew Weil, pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, has written extensively about food and the chemicals and additives that go into processing and packaging them. He has spoken out vehemently against HFCS, which is supposedly used in soft drinks and colas. The term "all natural" in labels is unacceptable if there is high fructose corn syrup in the list of ingredients. HFCS are not natural because of the high level of processing and the use of genetically modified enzymes required to produce it. And if that is not enough, HFCS are known to cause obesity as well.

Also, another significant health deterrent to watch out for is partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in trans-fat, and synonymous with coronary heart disease. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are used in food in order to increase shelf life and yes, you guessed it, it is a cheaper alternative to semi-solid oils. The dangers of consuming trans-fat are too many to ignore and it is widely accepted (with scientific evidence and all) that trans-fat has disastrous consequences for health: coronary heart disease, liver dysfunction, diabetes, obesity and even Alzheimer's disease.

According to an article titled "Trans-fat: Avoid this cholesterol double whammy" from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER):

"In fact, the consumption of trans-fats increases one's risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of "good" HDL cholesterol."

And again, according to an article titled "Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease" in the New England Journal of Medicine 354, by Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC (April 2006: "Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans-fat be reduced to trace amounts. Trans-fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more deleterious than naturally occurring oils."

According to Dr. Weil sugar, starch, refined carbohydrates and trans-fat are far more threatening to health than saturated fats.

The list of negatives in our food is beyond the scope of this article. However, the main aim of this article is to give consumers a peep into what those labels are really saying and to provide some insight into what to look for and stay away from. You could even say it is an exhortation to consumers to look before they eat. After all, it's your body, your health. Don't let them control it.

It is now imperative that we change our eating habits and look for food that is friendly to the body and the earth. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. Whether we believe that or not, a change in the way we approach food could well mean the difference between lasting wellness and disease.

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