As some of you know, I am often a guest on the Beyond Harmony radio show on KHTS 1220. I had a suggestion from one of my patients and listeners (thanks Wendi!) to talk about reading labels on the show. Incidently, I am always open to suggestions on what to talk about.
On Friday, 1/8/10, I spoke about reading labels to know what to look for when reading ingredient lists of foods and nutritional supplements. Here are some highlights of that show. If you have any other questions, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENRICHED When looking for bread, crackers, and just about any product that contains flour, this term can be misleading. When processing the flour, they mechanically strip it of bran, germ, oils, etc. This makes for a lighter flour that we all enjoy in things like cakes, breads, and cookies. It also increases the shelf life because it takes away all the oil that can go rancid. The problem is that it also depletes most of the fiber and nutritional value with it. After they have stripped it, they then "enrich" the flour with a few vitamins and mineral (usually of low quality or synthetic) so that some of the nutrition is added back in. There have even been some breads and cereals that were "enriched" with iron filings! You could actually take a magnet over the cereal and the iron filings would collect on the magnet!
So the flour loses 40 or so known nutritients and the manufacturers add back a dozen or so. I say "known" because we are always learning more and more about the phytonutrients found in nature. I like to use the "robber" analogy regarding "enriching". Say you have $100 in your wallet and a robber attacks you and steals it. He then has a little bit a conscience and decides to give you back $12. Would you feel "enriched"?
The answer: buy whole grain flours, preferrably organically grown.
BLEACHED is both a mechanical and chemical term. The more you mechanically process a flour, the more refined it becomes, and the whiter it looks. Then they expose it to chlorine gas to strip the starches and oils that rapidly spoil the grain. This proceedure leads not only to depleting the nutrient content by 50-90%, depending upon the nutrient, but also can cause an "alloxan" chemical to be produces which has shown some problems in lab animals.
Interestingly enough, the longer a flour just sits around, the whiter it gets anyway. There is kind of a natural "bleaching" process that happens. The chlorine gas artificially ages the flour.
The answer: buy unbleached flours.
FORTIFIED means that they have added nutrients that didn't naturally occur to foods. Some common examples are iodine to salt and vitamins A and D to milk. They also add flouride to water, calcium carbonate to juices, omega 3 oils to soil milk. The concept of fortifying foods is a good one, you just need to know that the nutrients they add most likely are the cheapest form which means that your body probably is not absorbing much of it. Also, usually they are synthetic. Sometimes things are genetically modified to be fortified. An example is "Golden Rice" which has been genetically modified with beta carotene.
The answer: eat a variety of whole foods like whole, organic grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans and you'll get all the fortification you need.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP This has been a buzz word for a couple of years now. HFCS is a sweetner that is mechically and chemically derived from corn. First of all, most corn in this country is contains GMOs. Then they process it in a way that, when eaten, causes a lot of stress to the body. Two common things is that HFCS causes insulin resistance, predisposing you to diabetes. And it also causes leptin resistance, preventing your body from sensing when it is full, which leads to overeating.
The answer: choose foods and drinks sweetened with fruit juices or raw, organic cane juice, stevia, honey, rice or barley syrups.
OILS When choosing oils, you want to look for a few things. First, choose oil that is in a dark bottle; either amber or green. Or in a can or pot. Light oxidizes fats just like heat does. Secondly, make sure on the label it says cold-pressed, expeller-pressed or cold expeller-pressed. Expeller pressed means that they have mechanically extracted the oil. Cold pressed is when they expeller press the nut or seed in a climate-controlled environment below 120*. This is for more delicate oils like flax or grape seed. If the label doesn't say these words, then the oils have been chemically extracted by such chemicals as hexane, phosphoric acid, sodium hydroxide, sulphuric acid, bleaching agents, and deodorizers. Yuck! They also have been exposed to high heat and the oil might already be rancid when you buy it.
The answer: spend a little more and get good oils.
FOOD IRRADIATION This is a process where they expose food or food ingredients to ionizing radiation. It is supposed to kill all the bad bacteria that causes food to spoil. Obviously, there are many problems created as well. Some are: killing the good bacteria as well, devitalizing and denaturing the food, increase aflotoxin production, increase in free radicals, tumor promotion, masks spoiled food, it doesn't destroy the bacterial toxins already present, chemical changes that are harmful to human consumption, genetic changes, mutant DNA, cancer producing, ataxia, Multiple Sclerosis symptoms, polyploidy (babies being born with too many fingers to women who ate the irradiated food). I don't know, but it just is scarey to think that with all we know about radiation, that we would deliberately expose our food to the stuff. I tried to cut and paste the "Radura" which is the logo that shows food has been irradiated. Which, by the way, the government doesn't mandate to be displayed. So, we could be eating the stuff and not know it. If you go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation you can see the picture so you know what you are looking at. It is quite cute and innocent looking.
The answer: buy organic, biodynamic, natural foods.
This next section will be what to look for in some vitamin and mineral supplements. There are many forms of nutrients, and some are more bioactive than others. This means your body can easily absorb them and use them to improve your health.
VITAMIN E is natural in the "d-alpha tocopherol" form. If it says "d-l alpha tocopherol" you know it is synthetic. It is optimal to get vitamin E in "mixed tocopherol" form. That means it is in a 1:1 ratio of d-alpha combined with a combo or gamma/delta/beta tocopherols.
CALCIUM Most people buy calcium to help them have strong, healthy bones. It takes much more than calcium to achieve that. In addition to exercise, low protein diet, and healthy sunshine, your body needs many nutrients together to build bone. Calcium, phospherous, sodium, magnesium, chromium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, zinc, proteins, and other organic factors are all needed. The best form of calcium for this comes in the form Micro Crystalline Hydroxy Apatite. It will also read MCHC on the label. This is a complete bone food than actually comes from bone. Make sure the company only uses bone from Argentina or New Zeland. Calcium Citrate is also a good, absorbable form. Calcium Oxide or Carbonate are the worst.
MAGNESIUM is can cause diarrhea in many people, which is why you can buy things like Milk of Magnesia as laxatives. The best form that is highly absorbable and won't have you running for the bathroom is Magnesium Glycinate. Magnesium Citrate is good also. Magnesium Oxide is the worst.
VITAMIN D buy this vitamin in the D3 or cholecalciferol form.
FOLIC ACID many people lack the proper coenzymes to convert folic acid into its bioactive form. The best way to buy it is in the "5-formyl tetrahydrofolate" or "L-5 methyl tetrahydrofolate" or "metafolate" forms.
VITAMIN C can be harsh on sensitive digestive systems if bought in the pure ascorbic acid form. It's best to get it "esterfied" like in Ester-C, or in mineral ascorbate forms. They are buffered and gentler on the system. Also look for "bioflavinoids" on the label like rutin and quercitin. They complete the vitamin C complex.
B VITAMINS Unless you are taking specific B vitamins for specific health issues, it is best to take the Bs in a ratio balanced form. It will read "ratio balanced" on the label.
NIACIN is Vitamin B3. Make sure it is in the "flush-free" form if you are taking it at high dosages for specific health concerns like detoxification or high cholesterol.
CHELATED MINERALS are minerals bound with natrual amino acids. They are more bio-available and can pass through the stomach acid intact. Generally, it is best to take a multi-mineral supplement that are chelated.
OMEGA 3s Since they are oils and can go rancid quickly, it is best to buy them in smaller batches. Make sure you buy EPA/DHA supplements that have been "third party certified and assayed" This means they have been tested by an objective party for purity and to make sure there are no detectable heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminents. Buy them in solid plastic or dark glass bottles; never clear/see-through.
PROBIOTICS are very delicate and should be refrigerated. The Lactobacillus Acidophilus NCFM form is the highest quality, most effective, and most tested and stable form. Also include the Bifidus bacteria in your supplement. Make sure that they are guaranteed through the EXPIRATION date, not the manufacture date. Ask if your supplier receives them in a refrigerated shipment.
FIBER It is best to take fiber in a combination of soluble and insoluble forms. Brown rice and oat bran, beet fiber, soy fiber and for most people, psyllium are excellent forms. There is a new rage on the market of fibers containg "polyethylene glycol". This is a form of polyester and, in my opinion, should not be ingested.