Featured Reader Question:
The simple answer to this is no. While I understand the concept behind this simplistic approach (1. quick and easy, 2. implies the product is made with whole foods), it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. And worse, it plays off of people’s fear of the unknown.
I’ve heard people say ‘if a child can’t read it then it isn’t good for you’ when reading ingredient lists on food labels. Is there any truth to that?” – Kate, New York
Back to your question. There are many ingredients that you may not recognize or are difficult to pronounce but that are good quality ingredients. This is becoming more and more true as we introduce more ethnic cuisine and discover new foods. There are also ingredients that are easy to pronounce but if used in excess, are not so good for you anymore.
Let me give you a few examples.
You’ll often see these “strange” words listed on a product label: niacinamide, pyridoxine, cobalamin, ascorbic acid, to name a few.
These are all vitamins.
Common in gluten free products and other health foods are xanthan gum, guar gum, agar.
Xanthan and guar gum are typically naturally extracted substances used to thicken – similar to the more commonly used corn starch or pectin. Agar is a plant based vegetarian substitute for gelatin.
In reduced or sugar free products, it’s common to see xylitol, erythritol, luo han guo and others. These are used to replace some or all of the sugar. A few years ago, you probably wouldn’t have recognized stevia rebaudiana on a label, which translates to stevia extract – an ingredient now identifiable by most consumers.
Even foods many of us now recognize as mainstream but didn’t used to be could have been looked over because we had not heard of it. Think: acai, quinoa, jicama, szechuan pepper, pepita, lychee, mangosteen, etc. etc.
Single ingredient foods should make up the bulk of your diet (any fruit, vegetable, whole grain, nut/seed, fats & oils, proteins, etc.) but “processed” foods can be incorporated into a well balanced healthy diet. The bottom line is, don’t be afraid of an ingredient if you don’t know what it is. Instead, ask an expert or look it up — from a credible source.*