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Look at Labels
November 2, 2011
When Living Without team member Laurel Greene’s doctor told her to cut out the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), she figured “no big deal.” She quit drinking soda and checked labels for HFCS and thought she was fine. Then last week a class instructor mentioned to her that “honey” frequently was imported from who knows where and could be loaded with HFCS. The class instructor went on to say, “The label on the honey doesn’t necessarily reveal this.” Then she recommended, “Buy your honey locally and make sure it’s 100% pure honey. Organic is good, too.”
A bit of Internet research revealed that some major honey producers do, in fact, supplement their bee feed with HFCS, hence the concern that the ingredient makes its way into some of the honey sold on grocery shelves.
We recently received a letter from a Living Without reader who’s sensitive to gluten, casein (a protein in cow’s milk and other dairy products) and soy. She was having inexplicable reactions to tuna and couldn’t figure out why. Our reader wrote: “When I went back to read the label, it just says 'tuna and water.'"
On the surface, this particular product looks pure and simple—“tuna and water.” Laurel thumbed through a gluten-free, casein-free grocery guide and saw that many brands of canned tuna are, in fact, gluten free and casein free. So what is the issue? Turns out that some brands are packed in “broth.” When she saw “broth,” Laurel decided to dig a bit deeper. She went to the manufacturer’s website and here’s what she saw:
INGREDIENTS: WHITE TUNA, WATER, VEGETABLE BROTH, SALT, PYROPHOSPHATE ADDED. CONTAINS: TUNA, SOY
Wait a minute. Soy in canned tuna?
Fortunately, federal law requires that manufacturers label the top 8 food allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, egg, nuts, peanut, fish, seafood) in their products. That’s very helpful but note the list doesn’t include gluten (not yet—we’re working on it) or corn or sesame seeds or other ingredients that may be problematic for many of our readers.
The bottom line is to be vigilant and continue to question. Usually a manufacturer’s website has pretty good information, and an up-to-date grocery guide can be a valuable helper as you shop. (Laurel uses Matison & Matison shopping guide, available at ceceliasmarketplace.com.) Find product brands that are easily available and that are safe for you—and stick with those. If you’re at all unsure, check directly with the manufacturer. And be sure to read the label every time because ingredients can change without notice.
Think back. When was the last time you saw a red flag on a label? Why was it surprising and what did it turn out to be?