All my life I have been a mostly natural person. Growing up, my mom cooked from scratch rather than buying packaged mixes – such as for cakes and cookies. We did have store-bought bread and cookies. But if Mom baked a cake, she started with eggs and flour and baked a cake. One of my sisters was vegetarian for a while. During that time I spent a lot of time at her place. She was always baking bread or cooking something yummy. All from scratch. She also knew more about nutrition than most people. I learned a lot about cooking from her.
In the last six years, all that knowledge has come in handy. Due to health issues, I’m on a strict low-sodium diet – no more than 2,000 mg/day. Plus, I now have migraines triggered by a lot of things that never were a problem – msg, most nuts, nitrates, nitrites, all of the artificial sweeteners, and more. It has forced me to read labels very carefully and also to make more things from scratch.
I highly recommend reading labels. It can be frustrating, but it also is revealing. Things to watch out for:
- How big is a serving? It’s a good question. A cookie from a well known coffee bar says it has only 115 calories per serving. But if you read carefully, you’ll find that the 6 inch cookie has 6 (six!) servings. Doing the math, if you eat the whole cookie, you’ve just consumed 690 calories. So, that’s why they don’t call a serving 1 cookie!
- How much salt? Salt is a very common ingredient. It’s inexpensive. It works as a flavor enhancer. If you add enough salt, then you don’t have to add as much of spices. But how much do you need? The reality is that you can actually get by with less than 2,000 mg/day. You would do just fine without ever adding salt to anything you eat. Salt is in every living plan and animal. It’s vital to life, to an extent. It’s the addition of salt that becomes a problem. Do the math some day and try to determine how much salt you consume. A slice of bacon? 1,000 mg! Many of your prepared packaged foods are very high in salt.
- What is that ingredient? Some labels are like reading the recipe for a chemistry experiment. They include lots of chemicals – some are preservatives, some prevent caking, some add artificial flavor. I always read to the end because I have to. And products with too many ingredients never make it into my grocery cart.
The most disturbing thing that I have found while reading labels is the addition of carrageenan to foods. I first found that it is in many ice creams. What is carrageenan? (You’ll also see carageenan, but carrageenan is the correct spelling.) According to the dictionary:
a substance extracted from red and purple seaweeds, consisting of a mixture of polysaccharides. It is used as a thickening or emulsifying agent in food products.
It disturbed me because I once worked in medical research. The group I worked with was studying tumors. They would inject animals with a known carcinogen. But the concoction they used also contained carrageenan. Why carrageenan? Because it acted as a tumor promoter. It didn’t really cause the tumor, but it helped with its development. I don’t think I want to eat much of that!
I have read, too, that the seaweed from which carrageenan is extracted can be beneficial. I believe it is a matter of quantity. I looked up carrageenan online and found that it is in many food products: desserts, ice cream, milk shakes, sauces, beer, processed meats, skim milk, soy milks, diet sodas, yogurt, and many more.
Want more information? Read the following links, or do an internet search on carrageenan.