Why You Should Always Read the Ingredients

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Stone Delicious IPA is “crafted to reduce gluten” but can’t be labeled gluten-free. Although it meets the international gluten-free standard of containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten, it does not meet FDA standards because it’s made from barley. (I’m ok with it.)

My son was born in Japan, but while we were stationed there, I didn’t read kanji. Not being able to read the written language of the country you’re living in makes for some interesting choices in stores and restaurants.

Imagine if you couldn’t read this page or any of the signs you see around you and had to decipher everything from pictures. That can of juice has an apple on it. Must be apple juice? Or is it apple soda? Are there other things in the drink? What are the ingredients? You can’t read the list, though, so you’re flying blind.

I remember sitting on a train in Kyoto, my two-year-old boy on my lap. He was happily guzzling what I thought was a harmless apple juice we had purchased from a vending machine at the station. And I mean he was guzzling it. I smiled, thinking he was thirsty. The Japanese gentleman next to us chuckled. I was used to Japanese people smiling and pointing at my big blonde American boy, but this man was really amused.

“Sumimasen?” I said, meaning “Excuse me?” because I did not understand.

The man smiled even brighter.

“Your son, “ he said in clear English. “He likes that drink a lot. It is pure sugar!”

Oh boy. Added sugar. Not my intention on what to give my child. I wrestled the can away from my excited son and grabbed a toy to distract him from the big tears welling in his eyes.

Arigato,” I said to the Japanese man. “Thank you.”

Pure sugar. When you can’t read the labels in a foreign land, you can make many mistakes. It happens. You live and learn. (And, eventually, you move back to the U.S. with your military family, where there seems to be even more sugar, but at least you have the ability to read the language.)

Why am I telling you this? Because many of us make those same mistakes here in America, in a land where we can read the labels and know what the ingredients are. Yet we end up consuming things with sugar or other undesirable ingredients, simply because we didn’t read the label. Like busy moms, we (understandably) get distracted by nice pictures and our own good intentions. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you’ve probably done so. It happens to all of us in this busy, complex, advertising-filled world. And, sometimes, the intention of a company is to obfuscate the truth, confuse the consumer and get your money before you realize that maybe you’re not making a wise nutritional decision. Sometimes, it’s easy to miss the warning signs.

“The label says all natural. That means it’s good for me.”

Not necessarily.

“Beef jerky has sugar? Really? The label says it’s ‘like steak in a bag!'”

Yup, some brands have lots of it. That one might be like steak in a bag of sugar.

“If it says ‘paleo’ then it’s healthy, right?”

Nope, not everything marked “paleo” is good for you. Some folks pack a lot of sweetener into a “paleo” product.

There’s a reason why at Steve’s Paleogoods the headline is “no junk added” … because WHO WANTS JUNK?

Sorry for yelling, but that’s the truth, right? None of us want junk in our food. Sugar and fillers and crap isn’t something we all clamor for, not if we’re trying to live healthy lives. Sometimes, though, we end up eating something junky (like my son guzzling that drink on the Kyoto train) but then we feel horrible and we might perform poorly in the gym or on the trail.

So, how to avoid the junk trap? Read the labels, even on “healthy” products. Scan the ingredients for stuff you don’t want to put in your body. Always, even when you’re super-hungry and making a quick decision. When you do find a healthy product? Stick with it. Stock more of it in your house, so you can make a good decision under stress.

Put your eyeballs on how much sodium is in products you buy, how many additives, how much sugar, etc. For example, check out the ingredients in Original Paleo Jerky: “Beef, Sea Salt, Apple Juice Concentrate, Paprika, Pineapple Juice Concentrate, Beet Powder, Black Pepper, Garlic Powder.” 24 grams of protein, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of sugar in a 2 oz. serving.

Now compare that to the ingredients in another brand’s popular beef jerky: “Beef, soy sauce (water, vinegar, salt, hydrolyzed corn and soy protein, caramel color, lactic acid), sugar, worcestershire sauce (distilled white vinegar, molasses, sugar, water, salt, onions, anchovies, garlic, cloves, tamarind extract, natural flavorings, chili pepper extract), horseradish (horseradish roots, vinegar, salt and mustard oil), liquid smoke (water, natural hickory smoke flavor, vinegar, molasses, caramel color and salt), celery powder, sea salt, black pepper, red pepper.” 12 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of sugar in a 2.5 oz. serving.

Which beef jerky do you want to put in your body? Which one do you want in your cupboard or your knapsack when you’re hungry?

I know what I’m picking. I can’t go back in time and pick a different drink out of that vending machine in Kyoto, but I can certainly make smarter choices now by reading the labels that I can read.

Be vigilant, inform yourself, and choose well, my friends! Your body, your workout, and your life will thank you for it!

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