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Why Decoding Ingredients on Product Labels is so Difficult

Real Life Education in Ingredients

My personal journey to understanding ingredients and nutrition labels started after being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes 32 years ago. Insulin sustains my life, but balancing extreme blood sugar fluctuations daily is critical to delay the inevitable, life threatening complications from this chronic disease. From a young age, I became very disciplined in learning about food groups to help me identify patterns on their impact to my blood sugars. This helps me estimate how much insulin to take at meals and bedtime. Needless to say, reading nutrition labels and scouring ingredient lists became - and remains - a necessary obsession.

Food Ingredient Labels

One of my earliest lessons in reading food labels was that ingredient lists are ranked from the heaviest to lightest weight ingredient. For example, a mixture of 8 ounces fresh pineapple with 2 ounces fresh blueberries and .02 ounces fresh mint equates to the following "ingredient list":
Pineapple, Blueberries, Mint
This is a simple, healthy snack for most people since there are only 3 fresh, natural ingredients with no additives.
But the real world is rarely this straightforward. To truly understand each ingredient in any product requires time, research and a lot of patience!
For instance, sugar comes in many forms and has more than 60 different names, Below is a partial list of some common names of sugars:
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose (naturally occurring in fresh fruit)
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Lactose (naturally occurring in milk)
  • Malt Syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Cane crystals
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Corn Syrup Solids
This same principle applies to all food groups like complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Plus, there are an astounding number of common and scientific names for the exact same ingredient, making ingredient lists hard to decode. In my years of label reading, I do not ever recall seeing "preservative", "filler" or "additive" listed as an individual ingredient - it just doesn't work like that. Product ingredient research is not for the faint of heart!
As a business owner of a natural product company for small pets in 2008, I saw these same principles in pet food products too. But the pet food industry is even more confusing and disturbing than the human food industry because almost all pet foods contain ingredients considered non-edible by humans.
When it comes to edible food products, the healthiest choice is human edible products with a limited number of natural ingredients without preservatives.

Natural vs. Synthetic Ingredients in Non-Food Products

Non-consumable, topical products for pets (and humans) are also chock full of unrecognizable, weird scientific names - even when labeled as natural.
In some cases, synthetic ingredients are actually safer than their natural versions. One example is titanium dioxide, a common sunscreen ingredient that many manufacturers synthesize from pure titanium to remove harmful impurities like lead and arsenic that come from rocks & soil.

And all natural ingredients may not always be the safest - or most effective - choice. For topical products, we prefer natural plant and mineral-based ingredients most of the time, but there are exceptions and we will always disclose that information.
The use of ingredients, processes and facilities regulated by human quality watchdogs USDA & FDA is another consideration we take into account before we decide on whether we consider a product as healthy for all.
Have a Naturally Beautiful Day! 😍

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