Focusing on Food Labels: A Short Ingredient List Has Become Something To Brag About

simply-pb-packageIngredient lists on food labels are shrinking.  Have you noticed?  Now it’s hip to have the fewest as possible.

That’s the topic of my latest article A guide to food labels in the Chicago Tribune.

When it comes to packaged food, a short ingredient list has become something to brag about.

Food author and activist Michael Pollan has been a major champion of this concept. In his frequently cited “rules of eating,” Pollan suggests avoiding products with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

If you can’t say it, don’t eat it, he advises. Or if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, skip it.
Food manufacturers appear to be taking notice. Today, it’s all about few and familiar ingredients.

Natural, pure and clean are the new demands.  It’s part of the simplicity trend I’ve previously written about.

First, it was Five, the new line of Haagen-Dazs ice cream that’s made with only five ingredients — including well-known kitchen staples (milk, ice cream, sugar and eggs).  Then, Pillsbury introduced Simply cookies that are based on a similar premise.  ”Made just like you would make at home, same ingredients, same process.

Many food companies are scrambling to simplify ingredient lists and find naturally sourced alternatives to create what has been dubbed a “clean label.”  And when they do, they proudly declare “no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives” on the front of the package.  That has become one of the most popular claims made by new foods and beverages, according to the market research firm Mintel.

In this era of fresh, organic and whole foods, we’ve become a national fearful of food additives,” said dietitian Elisa Zied, a New York-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

“People want to know what they’re eating,” she said.

Zied does suggest looking for foods with the fewest ingredients possible, but she said it’s just a rule of thumb — and one that can be broken.  ”If you don’t have food allergies, choose yourfive battles,” she said.

I also interviewed food scientist Barry Swanson, a professor of food science at Washington State University and a spokesman for the Institute of Food Technologists.  He told me there was a lot of confusion over ingredients…

“Consumers think any ingredient with two syllables is dangerous.  Yet many of the long words are added nutrients (such as ascorbic acid or vitamin C) and natural compounds, including extracts from fruit or other food sources that act as antioxidants to preserve freshness. All ingredients are added for a reason, and they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t safe,” he said.

Even so, many people are concerned about food additives.  That’s why I put together a guide to help translate the terms you might see on a food label and learn why these ingredients are added to foods.  Check out the article to learn more.  Or check out two other excellent resources:

Enjoy this?

share it

Discuss

8 Comments

  • http://www.icebergtoarugula.com Julie Tharalson, RD

    It will be interesting to see if this is a trend with staying power. Obviously food companies are in business to make a profit and it follows that they will develop products that exploit trends such as the “clean food” movement. But as Mr. Swanson says, many of the additives are in the products for a reason, perhaps for a better mass prodced product. It makes me wonder if producing “clean” items is a sustainable way of business for large food companies. We will see in time.

  • http://allfreerecipes.net Julie Tharalson, RD

    It will be interesting to see if this is a trend with staying power. Obviously food companies are in business to make a profit and it follows that they will develop products that exploit trends such as the “clean food” movement. But as Mr. Swanson says, many of the additives are in the products for a reason, perhaps for a better mass prodced product. It makes me wonder if producing “clean” items is a sustainable way of business for large food companies. We will see in time.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  • Pingback: Five for Fridays - Oct 16, 2009 | LittleStomaks

  • http://www.itsnotaboutnutrition.com Dina Rose, PhD

    Short ingredient lists are attractive, but “healthy” cookies are still cookies and it is the frequency with which we eat these foods – and the portion sizes – that really matter most. Especially when it comes to teaching kids to eat right.

    http://www.itsnotaboutnutrition.com

  • http://www.itsnotaboutnutrition.com Dina Rose, PhD

    Short ingredient lists are good but it is the frequency with which we eat these foods – and the portion sizes – that really matters. Especially when it comes to teaching kids to eat right.
    http://www.itsnotaboutnutrition.com

  • http://polprav.blogspot.com/ Polprav

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  • Pingback: Nutrition Unplugged | Another Look at the Simplicity Trend

  • http://www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.c stan

    You said, “I also interviewed food scientist Barry Swanson… and a spokesman for the Institute of Food Technologists.”
    Why would you believe anything this guy says? His job is to increase sales for the food industry. He’ll say whatever works. He’s not going to be honest with us. It’s called propaganda.

    Fewer ingredients is a plus, but what about all the ingredients that they’re not required to put on the label?

    http://www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.com

Copyright 2014 Nutrition Unplugged
Disclosure
Design by cre8d