Food Labels - On the Back . . .
The other week we talked about strategies for choosing healthy snacks. Next, we’re going to go a little more in depth to deciphering … food labels!
Let’s Start with that Ingredients List
Whatever fancy stuff a product has on the front, the ingredients list is where rubber (fruit leather?) meets the road (mouth?). . .
Anyway, here are some common but confusing ingredients you might see:
Citric Acid: This is found in a lot of food, generally used to preserve flavor and/or color. Citric Acid CAN come from lemon juice...or from a commercial by-product of mold. While both can be claimed as “all-natural” there’s definitely a difference in processing. We always prefer products that just say “lemon juice” and that’s how we do it. The old fashioned Mother Nature way!
Concentrate: We prefer whole fruits, but many companies use fruit that has been “concentrated” by heat treatment to remove the water. Pros - concentrates give you better control of sweetness and less water waste. Cons - you can lose a lot of flavor, color, and nutrition along with the water (that’s why many companies use artificial additives to re-create these). Not the worst thing ever, it just means the ingredient has gone through extra processing and handling.
Fruit puree is just fruits blended up (like a smoothie), a fruit concentrate (or fruit puree concentrate) is the same thing, but then cooked down until that smoothie is a thick paste.
Pectin: is a naturally occurring form of sugar in fruits and is a natural thickener. To oversimplify a bit, add pectin and some heat to fruit juice and you get…jello!
Here’s a Homemade Cranberry Jelly, In a Can recipe if you feel like getting super festive on Thanksgiving.
Pectin is naturally found in high concentrations in apples and pears - that’s why we add those fruits to many of our ingredients, so the fruit leather turns out chewy but not too tough. Alternatively, many products add processed pectin. It’s still a natural ingredient but, like citric acid, we prefer to do it the natural way whenever possible!
Corn Syrup: It’s sugar. A telltale sign of high-processing and, often, big industry. Can *technically* be “all-natural” but this is not the way we are supposed to eat sugar.
We could write a 10 page essay on this but we'll spare you.
Instead, practice reading ingredients list and be prepared to tune in soon to the other side: labels and claims.