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Are you a label reader?

Some shoppers read labels like a mystery novel while others don’t give them a glance. Regardless of your level of label reading, it’s always good to know where to find information to help you make an informed decision about the food you eat.

When a product has more than one ingredient, it’s required to have an ingredient list.

Food additives are a fuzzy area for many shoppers – with good reason! Nutrition recommendations run rampant throughout media. Some information about additives is flat out wrong, but plenty of truths also circulate. The problem with true statements is the lack of context that’s provided.

Nitrates in foods labeled no nitrates or no nitrates added.

For example, you’ve probably heard that added nitrates/nitrites in cured meats are bad. If so, you may choose to avoid them. But did you know that nitrates are still being added when you buy meats labeled as uncured or no nitrates or nitrites added? Yup, celery powder is rich in nitrates, and is often used as the curing agent for many natural and organic meats. When celery powder or other nitrate-rich vegetable extracts are used to cure meats, the USDA requires such products to be labeled as uncured. Something more to consider is the sodium nitrite added to conventional cured meats is tightly regulated, whereas the nitrates in vegetable extracts is more variable, often resulting in many uncured meats containing higher levels of nitrates/nitrites than their conventional equivalents.

If food additives on your radar screen, how do you obtain reliable information to help inform your decisions? Time and time again, I’ve turned to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Visit the organization’s Chemical Cuisine database, where you can find a comprehensive list with well-rounded information:

For those who steer clear of ingredients with chemical-sounding names, you may be pleasantly surprised at the long list of additives considered safe. Keep in mind, this list comes from an organization that takes food safety seriously and answers only to the public it serves.