Month: April 2013

Looking at Labels: V8 Juice

It was suggested to me this morning that I post something on V8 juice. An innocent looking drink that has lots of benefits, thanks to the vegetable content.

There are so many different types of V8 juice and it’s available in lots of sizes. I’m going to concentrate on two types that I assume are the most popular: 100% Vegetable Juice and Low Sodium V8 juice.


Aside from the offputting “reconstituted” phrase to start it off, the list looks good until you get to natural flavouring. Reconstituted probably means a loss of a lot of nutrients along the way, so although you may get 2 servings per can, it won’t do you as much as good as eating the real thing.

Natural Flavouring is misleading. “Natural” means the flavour has to be sourced from a natural food. But after that, it’s anyone’s game. All flavours are developed in a lab by a flavorist, whether they are natural or artificial. So you can be assured there are some chemicals included in the process.

I tried to find out what the Natural source was. After 4 phones calls to Campbells (who makes V8), including one that pretended he had a problem with his phone, I gave up. I couldn’t even establish if it was suitable for vegans or vegetarians.

Moving onto the Nutrition Facts, a juice of so many vegetables should contain more than 1g of fibre. Which supports my point about the reconstitution. Also alarming is the amount of sodium. 450mg is 19% of the daily intake. I generally ditch a product right away that is more than 400mg per serving. (A way around this would be to buy the smaller size which results in less sodium).

V8 does have a Low Sodium variety. This one does cut the sodium in half but instead it has 2 scary ingredients added; DISODIUM GUANYLATE, DISODIUM INOSINATE. These additives are flavour enhancers. Although they aren’t directly MSG, they work in synergy with MSG; i.e.: they don’t do much alone. So you can probably assume that this product has MSG in it.

I didn’t even bother troubling the guy at Campbell’s about this one!

So if you are going with V8, go with the small size real one and avoid the low sodium one completely. But better still ….. make a salad.


Looking at Labels: Special K Morning Shake

Anybody ever tried these? They grabbed my attention at the grocery store, probably because they are by Special K so it’s naturally associated with weight loss. The product looks convenient.


The front claims it satisfies hunger, delivers 10g protein and includes 12 essential nutrients. A quick look at the Nutrition Facts backs up this claim;  for 190 calories, you get at least a quarter of your recommended daily intake of protein, calcium, vitamin e, vitamins b2 and b6 and phosphorus. But it also proves that it provides 50% of your daily intake of sugar.

Now study the ingredients list. Look how you are obtaining these nutrients. In case you can’t read the photo, here is the list:

Water, Skim Milk Powder, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Polydextrose, Whey protein concentrate (milk), Vegetable oil, Soy Protein, Natural and Artificial Flavour, Potassium Citrate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Gellan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Soy Lecithin, Mono- and Diglycerides, Salt, Dipotassium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Colour.

WOW!!!!! What a wonderful array of chemicals and processed ingredients to help you lose weight. In their processed form, most of the nutrients claimed to be included won’t even absorb in your body as they are missing other vital nutrients needed to help them absorb. This mix of nutrients is found naturally in whole foods – nature isn’t interested in profits and therefore provides the right mix for absorption, it isn’t found in processed products.

This product even includes aspartame – named under it’s alias acesulfame potassium. You already know how I feel about that.

The real diamond on this is the small print on the front of the package. “As part of healthy eating, this food may assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight because it is portion controlled”.

A banana is portion controlled. And convenient. And combine it with a small yogurt pot and you’ve got just the same nutrients but in a way healthier form and more likely to actually assimilate in your body.

Deceptive Labeling: Trans Fats

I get an organic box delivered to my home once every 2 weeks (I’ll step this up every week in May when the local produce is ready).

Included are some bagels from a local bakery. While waiting for a bagel to toast this morning, I idly read the ingredients. Vegetable shortening. Oh man, is anything safe? Do I have to read absolutely everything? How naive of me to assume that the locally baked bagels in my organic box are trans fat free.

Fortunately, the list of alternate names is short. And the media attention trans fats have received has dramatically reduced the amount of trans fats found in many products.  Many food producers are even promoting their product has “trans-fat free” on the packaging. This is deceptive, however, as a certain low-level is allowed by law and it may, in fact, contain trans fats anyway.

You find trans fats mainly in margarines, shortenings, many deep-fried and fast foods as well as many baked goods.

To ensure it really is trans-fat free, check the ingredients for the absence of “hydrogenated”, “partially-hydrogentated” or “shortening”.

The following ingredients list is taken from a box of Girl Guide cookies. Something we all love to support and eat, right? This may make you think twice. As well as 3 different kinds of sugar, the list includes 2 different kinds of trans fat. At least it’s too much to qualify for “trans fat free” on the front of the box.


Deceptive Labeling: Which Sugar?

So many sugars. So many names. Which is good, which is bad? How much is good? Is any?

When reading labels, tally up your total for the day. It shouldn’t be more than 40g per day. And ideally, it should come with high levels of fibre to slow down absorption and level out insulin release.

If the label always said sugar, it would be easy. But Instead of raw sugar, white/brown sugar, turbinado, beet or demerrara sugar, you may also see these names on labels:

Other Names for Sugar

Sucrose Lactose Glucose
Fructose Levulose Dextrose
Maltose Sorbitol Mannitol
Corn Syrup High-fructose corn syrup Succanat
Cane juice Cane syrup Evaporated cane juice
Maple syrup Barley syrup Rice syrup
Malt syrup Maltodextrin Molasses
Fruit juice concentrates Corn sweeteners Natural sweeteners

Which are best? 

Honey and maple syrup are natural, whole foods that do not have such a detrimental effect on the body.  Although use should still be limited, these are good alternatives to many of the processed sugars mentioned above.

Artificial Sweeteners

Although the above sugars should be limited, they are not as harmful as artificial sweeteners which do not have a place in any food. I talked about the detrimental effect on weight a while ago. Essentially, these sugars stimulate the digestive juices making you actually crave sugar when the body realized it’s been “fooled”.

Artificial sweeteners are often found in chewing gum, low-calorie soft drinks, other low-calorie food such as yogurt, baked goods, ice-cream and candies. Check the ingredients of these products carefully to avoid these names:

Aspartame Equal Nutrasweet
Acesulfame-potassium Acesulfame-k Ace-k
Sunette Saccharin Isomalt
Cyclamate SugarTwin Sucaryl
Maltitol Lactitol Alitame
Sucralose Splenda Natural Sweeteners
Fruit Juice Concentrates Corn Sweeteners
Hydrogenated starch hydrolisates

There are some safe substitutes for artificial sweeteners. Stevia is an alternative sweetener derived from it’s own plant and therefore safe for the body.  No known effects of stevia have been found and is a useful alternative.  Xylitol is also a sugar alternative that has been found to be safe for diabetics.  Both Stevia and Xylitol can be found in health-food stores.

Deceptive Labeling: Nutrition Facts

Certain information must, by law, be declared on the box. The layout is consistent, the intention being that different products can be compared easily. However, manufacturers can use clever tricks to help market their product better. For instance, adjusting the serving size to make it more appealing. Follow these tips to help you choose the best choice:

  1. When comparing products, ensure the serving size is the same. When looking at just one product, ensure the serving size is actually the size you’ll eat.
  2. Foods low in saturated fat and trans fat have a value of 10% or less. The maximum daily intake of saturated fat is 20g.
  3. Foods low in sodium have a value of 5% or less. The maximum daily intake of sodium is 1,200mg*
  4. Your daily intake of fibre should be 25-35g.
  5. Your daily intake of sugar should be no more than 40g.

* This is Health Canada’s recommendation that was recently revised from 2,400mg. Personally, I believe that the 2,400mg mark is more achievable and recommend you aiming for this number first.

Deceptive Labeling: Ingredients Lists

Low quality ingredients, such as corn and soybean oil are a manufacturers dream. Cheap to produce, abundant and easy to include, they provide a food product with longevity and flavor. A good marketing team is the perfect partner to find ways to label the product and cover up the true nature of the product.

It makes it impossible to judge what a product is really about from the package.

If I were to give you all the information you needed today to understand label ingredients, this would be the longest post ever. Instead I will spend the next few days, focusing on one part. So be sure to check back every day to keep updated.

For today, instead of reading the health claims – which are completely the product of the marketing department, here are some tips on how to tackle the ingredients list, the first place I look for information. A few simple rules can take you a long way:

  1. Ingredients are listed in order of volume. The first 3 ingredients make up the bulk of the product and should be the ones you focus most of your attention on.
  2. The fewer the number of ingredients on a package, the more likely it is to be closer to a whole food.  The longer the list, generally the more processing it has been through.  A packaged apple for instance, would only have one ingredient. Apple. Many apple muffins wouldn’t even contain apple but have a laundry list of chemical ingredients instead.
  1. On grain, bread or flour based products look for the 1st word.  It should be “whole”.  ie: whole grain, whole wheat, whole rye, etc.
  1. If you can’t pronounce, avoid it. It is likely a chemical that will be a burden on your body.  Choose a food that will nourish your body instead.
  1. Low-fat often ends up meaning high-sugar as the manufacturers look to replace the taste. Look out for this and avoid products that list sugar in the 1st 3 ingredients.

What’s Cooking? ……. Pasta Salad

At the end of the day, looking for something to cook can be overwhelming.

Rest assured.There is always Pasta Salad. Grain salads are great as well but I know from experience that I can include any ingredients and as long as there is pasta in it, my kids will participate in dinnertime.

To make a pasta salad, cook up a pasta such as wholewheat penne or bows or spirals. There are probably fancy Italian names for this but I can’t think of them now!

Then chop up any ingredients you can find. What was included in my pasta salad yesterday was halved cherry tomatoes, grated carrot, 2 sticks celery, half a cucumber, half a red pepper, 2 radishes, 3 green onions, parsley, cheddar cheese chunks, black beans, cooked sweetcorn (that was frozen), and sauteed mushrooms (you can use them raw but I prefer them cooked so I cooked them in a little oil in the pan I used for the pasta).

I then free poured about 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar, juice from half a lemon and about 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (a specially nut oil such as walnut would be great here if you have it). Then salt and pepper and I tossed it all together.