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Posted by on Mar 17, 2014 in Health & Nutrition | 0 comments

Food Labels: Ingredients Varying by Stores, By States

When you go to the grocery store, how often do you look at the label of the food item you put into your cart?

Most Americans look at total calories and macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) rather than ingredients when they look at label on the back of a product (if they look at the label at all).

Typically, sugar and the ingredients aren’t the focus.

With the rise of processed food, and the “low fat” diet mentality, many of us are programmed to choose something with less than 100 calories; what the actual ingredients are that went into making that item and how much sugar (or sugar substitite) is added to make it palatable doesn’t seem to be much of a deciding factor.

Which is better? Eating a 100-calorie meal replacement bar that contains chemicals and fillers or granola made with oats and nuts that is 200 calories per serving? Which one would you choose? If the choice seems simple, why do so many continue to buy the Junk “health” food?

Manufactures are banking on the fact that the majority of consumers do NOT look at the ingredients.

The Food Industry hasn’t made reading labels easier. Labels can be confusing, and at times deciphering which claims are true and which ones are marketing may be tricky. Look at how diluted the term Natural has become. Some products that have Natural on the front of the label contain chemicals and GMOs. At this point, the question you must ask yourself is, what actually makes this product natural?

My friend recently told me that Costco was now selling the same brand-named gluten free bread that Whole Foods sells.

Upon visiting my local Costco, I found the bread in the freezer section. I peered at the label and I saw that the (second) ingredient was modified starch. That surprised me.

To clarify, according to the FDA:

The ingredient list on a food label is the listing of each ingredient in descending order of predominance.

Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last

Thus, the the first and second ingredient on the label are the most abundant in the makeup of the recipe.

Here’s the bread label from Costco:

photo 1


On my next visit to Whole Foods, I went to the bread aisle and picked up the same brand of bread, and the same type of bread that I saw at Costco and when I turned the label over, my suspicion was confirmed– the ingredient order differed.

Here’s the bread label from Whole Foods:

photo 3

My next visit to Trader Joe’s resulted in the same way- different order of ingredients.

Here’s the bread label from Trader Joe’s:

photo 2

Most know that warehouse stores like Costco may offer lower prices to their members. Many people contend that they like Trader Joe’s because their items are less expensive than Whole Foods, but do consumers even realize that the product ingredients may differ from store to store?

The price of the bread at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (in my area) were the same price, $4.99 per 12 oz loaf.

The Costco bread was $6.99 for 30 oz loaf. Some may argue that that is a better deal because you get bigger slices of bread, but is it worth the extra 12 grams of carbs? Moving away from wheat, shouldn’t mean increasing the amount of carbs for gluten-free substitutes. Calories aren’t as important as ingredients, but the bread at Costco also has 90 extra calories.

The bread sold at Costco lists the second ingredient to be modified starch. The bread sold at Whole Foods contains non-GMO canola oil in the ingredient list, whereas the bread sold at Costco and Trader Joe’s just list it as Canola Oil (thus unless labeled, generally implies it does contain GMO).

Albeit disheartening, not surprising. This isn’t the only brand to do this. It happens a lot. Once you start reading the ingredients on the label, you’ll notice it. Sodas (yes, Coke and Pepsi), soy and veggie burgers. Kraft did it internationally; they removed petroleum based-dyes and reformulated their Mac N Cheese in Europe (because they had to label it as such) but in the US, the toxic dyes remain…

Is it on the consumer to understand that “you get what you pay for”? Is the onus on consumers to read the label? Or is it on the manufactures to have the same standard for the same product?

So does that mean that manufactures recognize that the average Whole Foods shopper reads labels more so than at conventional grocery stores? And their sales could be lower because informed customers avoid GMO and foods that contain (unnecessary) additives?

Why would you want to buy organic oil?

There are several methods of plant oil extraction

1)   Mechanical extraction

Plants are pressed to extract oil from plant. Olives and sesame seeds can be cold-pressed, meaning no heat is used to extract the oil.

There are no solvent (chemical) residues in oil that has been expeller pressed resulting in a cleaner more pure oil, higher in natural colors and flavors.

2)   Distillation (solvent) extraction

Used when it is harder to separate the oil from the plant, such as soy, corn, canola and peanut.

The ground seed or cake is then purged or washed with a petroleum distillate (the most common chemical used is hexane) which releases the oil in the seed. The solvent is then “flashed off” by heating the oil in a sealed chamber. The oil/solvent blend is next heated to 212º F (100º C) to distill off the solvent. 

3)   Steam distillation:

Process typically for essential plant oils, such as rose and lavender.

Steam is passed through the flower petals and then the oils are able to evaporate; an emulsion can be made with water and the oil drops

The EPA says:

Hexane is used to extract edible oils from seeds and vegetables, as a special-use solvent, and as a cleaning agent.

Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to high levels of hexane causes mild central nervous system (CNS) effects, including dizziness, giddiness, slight nausea, and headache.  Chronic (long-term) exposure to hexane in air is associated with polyneuropathy in humans, with numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue observed.  Neurotoxic effects have also been exhibited in rats.

Acute exposure to hexane vapors may cause dermatitis and irritation of the eyes and throat in humans. (2)

No information is available on the carcinogenic effects of hexane in humans or animals.  EPA has classified hexane as a Group D, not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity.

EPA has not established a Reference Dose (RfD) for hexane. (5)

No information is available on the reproductive or developmental effects of hexane in humans.

What is Hexane?

Hexane is an organic compound made of carbon and hydrogen that is most commonly isolated as a byproduct of petroleum and crude oil refinement.

Hexane occurs in a couple of different places in nature, but is usually most readily available in petroleum deposits. This is often why gasoline contains it in high concentrations. When petroleum and petroleum-containing oils are mined and refined, chemists are often able to isolate the compound, which can then be purified and sold commercially.

One of the most popular uses is as an industrial cleaner or degreaser.

Many types of plants and vegetables are treated with this chemical in order to extract their oils and proteins for use in other products. Soybeans, peanuts, and corn are some of the most common.

Hexane is generally believed to be toxic or at least harmful when inhaled, and there have been instances of workplace injury and even death when people have spent long hours each day exposed to its fumes

There have also been questions about hexane residues that linger in vegetable oils, particularly when these show up in food products available in the general marketplace. Some health advocates argue that the presence of this chemical is unacceptable and dangerous, while others say that it is benign and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

There hasn’t been studies on the affects of hexane residues in our food, and the EPA does not have an established Reference Dose for Hexane; yet manufactures and the FDA and CDC all say such minimal exposure is not a health risk. Based on good faith? There also is NO mandated test as to whether the food we buy has hexane residue or the actual amount of hexane residue is not required or even measured.

Microscopic portions (up to 25 parts per million) of hexane can remain in the meal and the finished oil. Commercial oil companies claim hexane is completely removed in the recovery phase of the extraction cycle. However, this cannot be guaranteed as manufacturing practices and quality control standards vary enormously from processor to processor.

So, Hexane is a by-product of petroleum (the same crude oil that fuels your car) and is considered by the EPA and CDC to be neurotoxic if inhaled, but everyone is A-OK with ingesting very small amounts (every day, possibly multiple times a day)?! Considering almost all (non-organic) foods contain oils that are extracted from hexane, eating it every day, adds up, yes? How much petroleum do you deem safe for your child or yourself to ingest?

To avoid hexane residue, buy Organic Oils.  Foods with the Organic label are not allowed to use chemical solvents.

Also, it should be noted that fat and oils are susceptible to oxidation (free radical production) and not cooking above each specific oil’s smoke point is critical. Stay tuned for a future post on oils and how to cook with them.

I applaud Costco for offering the masses Organic, gluten-free, and more “healthy” food options, but just a reminder that no matter where you buy food, what brand it is, you still have to look at the label!

Don’t think about reading labels as a choir! Being a savvy consumer ensures that you are buying what you think you are getting.

You can also support, sign petitions and vocally advocate that the Food Industry should label whether their foods contain GMOs. Remember- you are casting your vote every day, as the foods you buy contribute to the supply and demand of what is in the marketplace. The only way for toxic ingredients to be removed from our food, is to stop buying them.

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