So, I am going to share an older post that I wrote for my dear friend Chandler's website, Loudspeaker, and I recommend you check out the amazing things that he does for social issues by visiting said website!
Anyway, over the summer, before I was eating an AIP diet, I struggled a lot with navigating the grocery store and figuring out what I could or couldn't eat. For those of you who have more freedom to eat pre-packaged foods, this article is for you! At this point in time, I eat maybe 2-3 products that I can eat without cooking, so playing Sherlock Holmes in the grocery store is not as big of an issue for me.
Read on to figure out how allergens can be hiding in your food (ah! the gluten monster!), what ingredients to avoid if you have specific allergies, and ultimately, be an informed consumer aka boss when you go food shopping!
P.S. I was eating a somewhat-paleo diet when I posted this, just FYI ;-) You can see how much knowledge I have gained since receiving my official Hashi's diagnosis! As of now, I won't even touch a tortilla chip or try to sneak things into my diet that cause inflammation (except for that jar of almond butter that I wolfed down post-thesis defense... oops! >.<)
It’s pretty funny how I just wrote a post about checking food labels, and yet I didn’t follow my own advice at the grocery store just the other day. I was in the organic section at our lovely Kroger and noticed a package of spinach fettucine noodles next to some gluten-free pasta. I snagged the spinach noodles off of the shelf thinking they were GF, had a meal planned out in my head on the drive back to my house, got home and happened to check the back of the package. Naturally, staring me in the face was “CONTAINS: WHEAT” and my roommate scored yet another one of my food hand-me-downs thanks to my arch enemy, gluten.
While it was pretty obvious that this food had gluten in it after glancing at the ingredient list, (sometimes I think food should have NOT GLUTEN FREE on the front of packages, that would be really considerate for all parties involved. Seriously, someone get on that) sometimes it isn’t so clear what is hiding in your favorite snack.
Today, I’m going to provide you all with some resources that I use to ensure that I’m not ingesting the plethora of ingredients that upset my poor excuse of a stomach (it’s okay, we have a love hate relationship), in the hopes that you won’t have to play detective every time you frequent the grocery store.
Since I eat a Paleo diet (well, for the most part… it’s nearly impossible for me to give up corn chips and rice. I’m fine with not being a cavewoman 100% of the time, as much as I used to dig the Flinstones back in the day) I have to be on the look out for the following ingredients: gluten/wheat, dairy, soy, added sugars, and corn (except for those triangle shaped pieces of heaven know as tortilla chips). Whether you have to avoid these food types because of allergies or insensitivities, or you’re just trying to eat more Paleo-like, you’re only doing yourself a favor in the long run by investigating what each ingredient is in the food you consume.
First, let’s go over funky lingo for gluten. Gluten likes to hide in many foods aside from breads, cookies, pastas, and other obvious gluten-y foods. This one time I decided to eat some creamed spinach (yeah, it was as gross as it sounds) and my stomach immediately looked like I swallowed a balloon whole. I checked the package and saw that it contained modified food starch, and since the only other ingredients were spinach and cream, I Googled “is there gluten in modified food starch” and had my answer (it’s yes, in case you were wondering).
A lot of the time, gluten is used to make creams thicker, just like in the spinach dish, so always make sure to check your labels, because ingredients can be added to your favorite products over time, or different brands might use different ingredients to make the same product.
*Here are some other ingredients that contain gluten*: artificial flavoring, bleach flour, dextrin, hydrolyzed wheat protein, malt, maltodextrin, natural flavoring, vegetable starch, wheat grass, and wheat starch. For a more extensive list please check out http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/read-and-understand-labels-to-select-paleoapproved.html (please note that I do not think that you are a dummy, if so, I am definitely the queen of ingredient mishaps ☺)
Next on our list is soy. I plan on writing an article in the near future on why soy, as well as some of the other ingredients in this post, should be limited in your diet, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I avoid soy because I am currently struggling to get my estrogen levels down (and when I say currently I mean for the last two years, thanks copper IUD (intrauterine device)), but just like gluten, soy likes to hide out in foods too. For instance, miso soup, one of my favorites, tofu, and tempeh, and this makes it harder on vegetarians to limit soy in their diets.
*Other names for soy include*: artificial flavoring, hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), tamari, vegetable broth, vegetable gum, and vegetable starch. For more “sneaky” names for soy, please check out the website listed above ☺.
Now it’s time for dairy, which is a food group that my poor old Italian soul misses the most. There is no such substitute for fresh mozzarella (or even mozzarella sticks, YUM!), alfredo sauce, or some grated parmigano-reggiano (yes, I used to lip grated parmesan cheese like chewing tobacco, no, I am not ashamed of this habit at all). I avoid dairy like the plague because every time I eat some my hormones rebel and I get cystic acne breakouts (as much as I love cheese, it’s just not worth having bumps all over my face for a few moments of bliss).
If you’ve been having trouble with your complexion, maybe dairy is the culprit. Here are some ingredients that are dairy laden: butter, casein, cream, custard, ghee, goat milk, magnesium caseinate, nougat, sour cream, whey, whey protein (search on Amazon for vegan protein powder for a dairy-free alternative. I use Sun Warrior and swear by it), whipped cream, and yogurt. Here’s an awesome website that has more dairy ingredients, potential dairy ingredients, and dairy-free ingredients: http://www.godairyfree.org/food-and-grocery/food-label-info/dairy-ingredient-list
I’ll try to make these last two ingredients (sugar and corn) quick, as I don’t want to bombard you all with too much information. In my last post, I covered artificial sweeteners, but if you are looking to cut back on your sugar intake overall, there are other ingredients to look out for. If you see any of these ingredients, sugar has been added: agave nectar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrin, disaccharide, evaporated cane juice, fructose, lactose, malt syrup, ribose, treacle, and xylose. Reference the dummies link to see their full list of added sugars if you’d like to know more.
Last is corn. I find it humorous that I’ve tried to cut back my corn consumption soon after moving to the Mid West, especially since I live next to a cornfield. The New York in me is actually cringing as I say that. Anyway, corn gets a bad rep. because it has a bad ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and this imbalance can lead to inflammation and cause many other illnesses (Callahan, S.). Not to mention, we are unable to digest corn, which cannot be good for our stomach or GI tract (I’m trying really hard to refrain from make a fecal matter joke, anyone who knows me knows how hard of a challenge that is, but I will spare you, the reader ☺). Per usual, I’ve rambled on, so here are some ingredients that contain corn: artificial flavoring, corn oil, dextrin, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, sorbitol, vegetable gum, xantham gum, and xylitol. Want more corn ingredients? Check out the dummies link!
Okay, so that concludes my crash course on ingredient labels, at least for now. As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have a question, a supplemental source or fact, or even something that challenges what I’ve talked about today. I’m still figuring out what I’ll post about next week, so if you have a suggestion definitely let me know! This will end up becoming redundant, but use the Internet to help you figure out your own health journey, the answers are out there if you look long and hard, I promise ☺.
P.S. Also look into purchasing an app for your phone called Fooducate. It allows you to select ingredients that you want to avoid, scans barcodes of food products at the grocery store, and then alerts you if it contains whatever ingredients you selected. I highly suggest it for those of you who are just starting out. It helped me immensely.
Callahan, S. “The Ugly Truth About Corn – What It Really Is, Why You Shouldn’t Eat It, and How It Never Seems to Go Away.” The Ugly Truth About Corn – What It Really Is, Why You Shouldn’t Eat It, and How It Never Seems to Go Away. Callahan Strong23, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 25 June 2014.
Fleming, A. “The Dairy Ingredient List – Go Dairy Free.” Go Dairy Free. Go Dairy Free, 16 May 2006. Web. 25 June 2014.
Joulwan, M., & Kellyann P. “Read and Understand Labels to Select Paleo-Approved Foods.” Read and Understand Labels to Select Paleo-Approved Foods. For Dummies, n.d. Web. 25 June 2014.