Certain fats should be avoided. Some ingredients may cause an allergy, and calorie intake should be limited. There are many ways in which we can control our consumption and all the information we require is on the label stuck on the product cover.
However, food labels are not always very clear.
Calories are mentioned per serving, ingredients have names that nobody has ever heard about and how much of those ingredients we are actually consuming remains unknown.
After deciphering the food label, we still do not know what we eat.
Food labels could be much clearer, agreed Wafa Ayesh, director of Clinical Nutrition at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).
“The quantity or percentage of each ingredient added to the food should be mentioned, and allergen information should be bolder.
Reading food labels is important for individuals with food allergies or intolerances, or patients of diabetes or other metabolic disorders, she pointed out.
But reading food labels is also important for anybody to make smarter food choices.
“Sometimes, it is hard to identify ingredients that we should reduce in our diet, such as saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars and cholesterol.
“Therefore, it is important to understand the commonly used names of these ingredients in food labels.”
As a guideline, Ayesh tipped consumers about calorie counting and ingredients that should be avoided and ingredients that should be limited in intake.
Calories are mostly mentioned per serving, said Ayesh. To understand the calorie intake of a certain meal, the consumer should take into account several parts of the food label.
“First, look at the serving size and how many servings you are actually consuming. The Nutrition Facts Label information is based on one serving, but many packages contain more.”
“Then, look at the calories, and multiply this number by the number of servings you consume. The result will give you the number of calories in the food consumed by you.”
Sometimes food products do not mention the number of servings the whole packet or can provides, Ayesh pointed out. “In this case, the number of servings should be derived as per grams consumed.
As an example the dietician took the food label of a packet of chips.
“If this packet contains 60 grams of chips, this is approximately 2 servings, so the number of calories should be divided by 2.
“Or, if you have eaten 24 chips, this is 2 servings. The number of calories should also be multiplied by 2.”
Further, calorie counting should also be done with fat-free products, she pointed out. “Fat-free does not mean calorie-free. It may contain calories from sources other than fat, such as carbohydrates and proteins.”
Ingredients to avoid
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFSC)
HFCS causes insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, increased weight gain, and is furthermore manufactured from genetically modified corn, said Ayesh.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is not a nutrient, vitamin or mineral and has no health benefits.
There are a growing number of clinicians and scientists who are convinced that toxins like glutamate from MSG play a critical role in the development of several neurological disorders, including migraines, seizures, infections, abnormal neural development, certain endocrine disorders, specific types of obesity, and moreover neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and olivopontocerebellar degeneration, said the dietician.
Ingredients similar to MSG are natural flavoring, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, caseinate, textured protein and hydrolyzed pea protein.
Hydrogentated or Fractionated Oils
Hydrogentated or Fractionated Oils are a source of trans fats.Trans fats raise LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol and make you more likely to get heart disease. They also lower HDL, or 'good' cholesterol, pointed the specialist out.
Potassium Benzoate and Sodium Benzoate
Sodium Benzoate can convert into lethal carcinogenic poison when combined with absorbic acid (vitamin C).
“Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the "power station" of cells known as the mitochondria.”
Potassium is just as hazardous and shows up in seemingly innocuous foods such as apple cider, low-fat salad dressings, syrups, jams, olives, and pickles, said Ayesh.
“Artificial flavourings are derived from chemicals made in a laboratory and offer absolutely no nutritional value. Every single artificial flavor in the food industry has some kind of detrimental health effect. These include neurotoxicity, organ, developmental, reproductive toxicity and cancer,” she says
“Food colorings still on the market are linked with cancer,” warned the dietician.
“Blue 1 and 2, found in beverages, candy, baked goods and pet food, have been linked to cancer in mice. Red 3, used to dye cherries, fruit cocktail, candy, and baked goods, has been shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats. Green 3, added to candy and beverages, has been linked to bladder cancer. The widely used yellow 6, added to beverages, sausage, gelatin, baked goods, and candy, has been linked to tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney.”
Acesulfame-K, also known as acesulfame potassium, represents one of the food additives used for sweetening aliments and drinks, and there are several potential problems correlated with consumption of this food additive, according to Ayesh.
“Splenda/sucralose is simply chlorinated sugar; a chlorocarbon. Chlorocarbons are never nutritionally compatible with our metabolic processes and are wholly incompatible with normal human metabolic functioning. Sucralose is a very common additive in protein mixes and drinks.”
Results indicate that aspartame is a multi-potential carcinogen, which is consumed at a daily rate of 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, said Ayesh.
BHA and BHT
“Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are oxidants, which form potentially cancer-causing reactive compounds in your body.
“They are used to preserve common household foods, found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils.”
Propyl Gallate is a preservative, possibly linked to cancer. It is sometimes found in meat products, chicken soup base, and chewing gum.
“Polysorbate 80 has been found to negatively affect the immune system and cause severe anaphylactic shock. Food and Chemical Toxicology has shown that Polysorbate 80 causes infertility. It accelerates maturing, causes changes to the vagina and womb lining, hormonal changes, ovary deformities and degenerative follicles.”
Ingredients to limit
“The single largest source of calories comes from sugar,” pointed out Ayesh.
“Sugar is loaded into your soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, and hidden in almost all processed foods, and excess intake is a leading cause of obesity.”
Enrichment of a product such as wheat means that elements such as niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, and iron are added after these and other key nutrients are taken out in during the refining process, explained Ayesh.
“This applies to wheat, rye, or other grains. Enriched flour is really just refined flour that has had a few nutrients re-added to it, but not enough to make any food made from this nutritionally worthy.”