Ingredient Label Series - I

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Welcome to the first post in the Ingredient Label Series, where we’ll be exploring how to read an ingredient label on a product!

In this series, I’ll be highlighting several different common products that you can find in any grocery store and break down a few red flag ingredients in them. I’ll show you how to quickly and efficiently look at ingredient labels and determine what (if any) value the food product has to offer. As I highlighted in my last post, The Real Way To Read A Nutrition Label, reading the ingredients is essential when trying to determine if a product is something you feel good about consuming.

In my opinion, the ingredients label oftentimes lends more valuable information over the numbers on the nutrition label above it. Ingredients have a profound effect on how your body absorbs nutrients, digestion, hormones, blood sugar levels and so much more. Good ingredients in a food product lead the body to balance, while bad ingredients throw the body out of balance.

We’ll start by looking at everyone’s favorite “healthy” food…granola bars! Notoriously crunchy, wholesome and health promoting, right? Well, there’s more to granola bars, as we can see from some of the ingredients in them.

Let’s take a look at these Fiber One Protein Chewy Bars - Cookies and Crème flavor.

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Ingredients: Chicory Root Extract, Sugar, Palm Kernel and Palm Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate, Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Whole Grain Oats, Cocoa Powder, Maltodextrin, Enriched Wheat Flour, Soybean Oil, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Vegetable Glycerin, Fructose, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Canola Oil, Soy Lecithin, Milk, Nonfat Milk, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Rich Starch, Salt, Yellow Corn Flour, Sweet Chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, anhydrous milk fat, soy lecithin, vanilla) Barley Malt Extract, Tapioca Starch, Dextrose, Baking Soda, Lactic Acid, Oil of Rosemary.

I won’t explain every ingredient in this product, because truthfully, you don’t need to understand every ingredient to know whether a product is something worth buying or not. (If you’re super curious about a specific ingredient I didn’t cover, email me!) This is what I aim to teach you; how to quickly and efficiently make an informed decision without spending too much time looking at every ingredient while you’re in the grocery store. No one has time for that!

It’s not necessary to read/understand every ingredient on a product like this for two reasons:

First because, there is a lot of ingredients. There are over thirty ingredients in this food product, and I can see that very quickly by just turning over the box and glancing at the back. There’s a HIGH chance that any product with this many ingredients is not a whole, real food and has been highly processed. Bad news, because we’re trying to avoid processed foods here!

Secondly, just knowing a few key red flag ingredients to watch out for allow us to realize this food isn’t all that great and is not be something we want to eat regularly.  

RED FLAG INGREDIENTS: Maltodextrin, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Vegetable Glycerin, Fructose, Artificial Flavor, and Dextrose.

Maltodextrin is a highly processed food thickener that is extracted from foods like corn and potatoes. It offers not nutritive value whatsoever, and can even have a negative effect on blood sugar and healthy gut bacteria.

High Maltose Corn Syrup is a cousin to High Fructose Corn Syrup, which has been broadly studied and been shown to have negative impacts on health. High Maltose Corn Syrup is composed of maltose as the main sugar, instead of fructose like High Fructose Corn Syrup. Maltose does have different chemical properties than fructose, however, both these ingredients are processed, unnatural and offer no nutrition. 

Vegetable Glycerin is a sugar alcohol and additive derived from either coconut or palm oil typically. It’s used as a thickener and sweetener in foods. Again, this offers no nutritive value and can cause digestive upset in some people.

Fructose is a type of sugar that is overly consumed and scattered everywhere in our food supply. Fructose puts a heavy burden on the liver as it works in overdrive to metabolize and excrete it. Fructose consumption also increases the risk of many diseases like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Artificial Flavors are a highly debated matter among nutrition professionals and scientists alike. From a chemical standpoint, an artificial flavor can be created and its structure be the exact same as a natural flavor. I however, try to avoid artificial flavors because I believe our bodies can tell the difference in ways perhaps science doesn’t understand yet. I trust the unchanged food nature provides to be healthier than food (or food additives) created in a lab.

Dextrose is a type of processed “natural” sugar that is added to foods to sweeten them. Dextrose is a cheap, readily available additive and enhances the texture and shelf-life of foods. Dextrose in itself isn’t “bad”, but in this food product, it serves little purpose other than simply another type of sugar - one that can spike blood sugar levels pretty dramatically in some people.

My main grumble with this product is simply the amount of junky, artificial ingredients it has. Also, I don’t recommend consuming the many different sugars/sugar alcohols, oils and non-nutritive additives this product has.

I understand the need to eat more fiber, sure. It’s important for many reasons, but eating a real, whole food source of fiber like a piece of fruit or vegetables will offer you just as much (if not more) fiber as this bar with far less artificial junk. Plus you’ll be getting more nutrients that don’t come from enriched, synthetic sources and actually work synergistically within the body.

Bottom line, this is not a real, whole food that I would recommend to anyone. There are many better options for quick and easy snack options that offer real nutrients without this laundry list of ingredients.

Stay tuned for the next Ingredient Label Series post, and in the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about anything we’ve covered in this post! Thanks for reading!