It’s harder and more expensive than ever to keep your refrigerator stocked with healthy foods from the grocery store. But while it takes more time and money, there is no better investment for your health.
Fortunately, for the fresh foods, the important labels are pretty simple. You need only look for “organic” for produce. For chicken and eggs, always look for “free range.” And for butter and beef, look for “grass fed.” (The label “natural” is essentially meaningless.)
Labels on processed foods are a bit more complicated. But they’re about to get a little bit easier, thanks to new labeling requirements passed by Congress in May 2016. (The old labeling law dated back to 1993.) Food manufacturers must implement the new label changes by July 2018. I’ll tell you more about these changes in a moment, But first, there are a still few good rules of thumb you can always follow when examining food labels:
- Read processed food labels closely
I always look at the list of ingredients. The most common ingredient in the food, by weight, appears first in the list. I find it shocking how many “foods” show sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, and empty carbs as the primary ingredient(s). As your mother used to say, put those products back on the shelf.
- Watch out for trans fats
Manufacturers commonly added these dangerous, artificial ingredients to packaged foods when my daughter was young. Fortunately, these fats are on their way out. In fact, in 2006, Congress started to require food manufacturers print their products’ trans fat content on the label. As a result, few products on shelves today still contain them. (But many restaurants still sneak them in.) The FDA set a deadline of 2018 to remove all trans fats from the U.S. food supply. So remain vigilant.
- Beware of genetically modified (GM) foods
This month, if you shop in Vermont, you may find food labels alerting you that a product contains a GM ingredient. You may even find these labels if you shop outside of Vermont, as some big food manufacturers decided to go with the labels nationally. Some other manufacturers even promised to eliminate their use of GM ingredients altogether.
I credit the U.S. Congress, the FDA, as well as Vermont for taking this step to clearly contribute toward better nutrition and health.
- Skip “cholesterol-free” foods
Unfortunately, big agro-businesses — with their legions of lobbyists and lawyers — still find devious ways to market and sell their products. For example, I see lots of processed foods with the label “cholesterol free.” They use it to give the (false) impression these products are healthy. But this impression is based on one of the biggest myths in modern medicine.
You see, the cholesterol content of the food you eat has nothing to do with the cholesterol level in your blood. Further, the cholesterol in your blood is mostly an “innocent” bystander when it comes to the primary causes of cardiovascular disease. Plus, your body needs some healthy cholesterol daily. So a cholesterol-free food is not a healthy food, by any means.
As I’ve said before, the tragic cholesterol myth encouraged people to cut back on some of the best, most nutritious foods on the planet — including eggs (yolk), dairy, meat, and shellfish. (Note, you will also find all these foods offered at the perimeter of the grocery store.)
- Skip the fat-free foods too
By the same token, a “fat-free” label on a processed product does not mean it’s healthy, since manufacturers typically load fat-free foods with sugars and carbs instead. It’s another great tragedy that some people (including the American Heart Association and cardiologists) still buy into the fat-free propaganda. The science shows that sugars and carbs, not fats, are the real culprits when it comes to obesity, Type II diabetes, dementia, cardio-metabolic heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
- Beware of artificial sugar substitutes
Artificial sugar substitutes are not good alternatives since studies link “soft drinks” with obesity and Type II diabetes — whether they are sweetened with sugar (high-fructose corn syrup) or artificial chemicals like aspartame.
Fortunately, the new labeling law for “added sugar” will help consumers distinguish between sugar naturally present in a food (such as fructose in fruit or lactose in dairy) versus sugar artificially added and dumped into a food product. This requirement will be the first major amendment to the labeling law in over two decades. And manufacturers must implement it in the next two to three years.
The new law will also require labels to be easier to read. And they will add additional relevant information based on (finally) updated dietary guidelines.
Knowledge is power
I applaud the government when it requires producers to give more information to consumers. And I’ve been totally committed to public education about health and nutrition my whole career. I fact, I worked with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop (1915 – 2013) on these goals for 25 years. And I still provide “consumer education” in the Daily Dispatch, my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, and in my books.
Only an informed public can implement real improvements to the system. And the GM labeling law reform from Vermont is a perfect example. Their work is now changing the nation. In fact, an informed public is the only path to real, meaningful, sustainable reform, consistent with freedom, liberty, and constitutional rights.
The government should stop trying to control everyone’s lives, work, recreation, and personal behavior with endless recommendations, restrictions, requirements and prohibitions. And it should definitely stop issuing contradictory, nonsensical, politically correct laws and regulations not supported by real science.
Educate the buyer.
Then — in the words of the ancient Roman Republic (before it became a tyrannical imperial government) — “caveat emptor,” or let the buyer beware.
Forewarned is forearmed, but still free.