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02 November 2010

Do you read the ingredients?
I kinda have to, so that I don't eat anything with a ludicrously high sodium content. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure is not good.
posted by TrishaLynn 02 November | 06:10
I only read the ingredients when I buy cat food.
posted by Obscure Reference 02 November | 06:21
Yep. I'm vegetarian and I also try to avoid products containing hydrogenated fats as much as I can.
We don't have HFCS in everything here, but if we did, I'd avoid that too.
If I'm buying processed products, I try to get the least processed items.
It's astounding how often a product doesn't even contain ingredients that you'd think *should* be in there, but instead contains various cheaper substitutes, such as "pesto" with nary a trace of pine nuts, but containing cashews instead, or even potato. WTF.
posted by goshling 02 November | 06:22
I think the thing about pesto this year is that "global weirding" has affected the climate at the altitude where pine trees normally produce their nuts, and pine nut prices are sky-high as a result.
posted by aniola 02 November | 06:28
Somebody told me that pesto with tahini is pretty tasty. I'm more inclined to believe that than a lot of the replacements I've seen/heard.
posted by aniola 02 November | 06:29
Yes - I cannot have alcohol or coconut.
posted by Senyar 02 November | 07:02
Even when I have a choice between two similar junk foods I pick the one which is "better." I recently bought cans of broth and veggies for a soup, with multiple brands available for each item. In this case I chose the ones with less salt (since that was the only real difference); the soup was great and I'm glad it wasn't saltier. In general I'll also look at the ingredient list as well as the fats, salt, protein, carbs and vitamin content.
posted by D.C. 02 November | 07:14
Yes I usually read. Mostly though I make things from scratch.
posted by gomichild 02 November | 07:26
Sometimes, mostly to check the salt content.
posted by BoringPostcards 02 November | 07:55
Sometimes I deliberately choose genetically-modified products over other ones. But that's my own personal weirdness.
posted by gaspode 02 November | 08:22
I read the ingredients on toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles while I'm on the crapper. Always have. They get boring after awhile.
posted by Hugh Janus 02 November | 08:39
I used to, but at this point, I tend to buy whole foods over processed stuff. And then, with the small amount of pre-made stuff I buy, I don't tend to worry too much. But yeah, I definitely know what to look for when I do read. Or, I know already that the thing I'm buying is full of crap, so I don't need to check AGAIN! Heh.
posted by richat 02 November | 08:44
I'm with gomichild. I do read labels, but mostly we cook without processed food.

And to those of you who check for salt....what exactly do you look for? Sodium per serving? What's the magic number you look for?
posted by toastedbeagle 02 November | 09:13
to those of you who check for salt....what exactly do you look for?

When making a choice between items, I always go for the one with the lower sodium content.
posted by BoringPostcards 02 November | 09:35
I read labels. No trans fat, watch the saturated fat, get the most fiber, eyeball calories and sodium.

% RDA of sodium per serving can be pretty terrifying. I love salt, too, but I have The Pressure so try to keep an eye on it.
posted by rainbaby 02 November | 09:39
We also eat mostly whole foods, but I do read labels on unfamiliar packaged goods. My partner is gluten-intolerant, so I need to check for any of the fifteen gajillion manifestations of wheat/barley/rye/etc. that can get into a product (which is why I'm getting happier and happier to give my money to companies that take the time to add "Gluten Free" to their labeling), and I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and any ingredients that I can't easily pronounce, or at least parse. I managed to find jelly yesterday whose ingredients were something like "apricots, sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, pectin." That made me happy.
posted by occhiblu 02 November | 10:03
I read labels to see if there's any chance of accidentally eating a mushroom, or anything mushroom related. I find the very sight of them beyond disgusting and cannot tolerate the thought of ingesting one, even if it's just a trace. I don't even want to touch one with my finger. I know it's crazy. But seriously they are just horrid bits of filth to me so I must be vigilant.
posted by Kangaroo 02 November | 10:24
Sometimes, but as I think about it I realize that if I'm buying a "processed food product" it's usually because I'm feeling sorry for myself and can't get myself to cook and therefore don't care what's in whatever I'm buying.
posted by JanetLand 02 November | 10:42
I do read the labels, mostly, but not obsessively. Much of our diet is homemade from staples, so label-reading doesn't take much time while shopping.

I don't read the veggie burger boxes; The Fella buys those for late-night dinners and isn't about to change habits, so I don't want to know what's in 'em.

I scan things to see if there's any meat by-product (in which case The Fella can't eat it), I scan to see if there's aspartame (in which case I can't eat it), and sometimes I look to see how much sodium/fat/whatever is in a product. I make sure the juice is JUICE, not syrup with juice in it.

But I also look at serving size + servings per package. I have put back many a packet of fancy junk food when I noticed that despite the lavish box, there are only six [whatevers] inside.
posted by Elsa 02 November | 11:12
Absolutely, I read the labels. It's amazing the crap that is put into stuff. I primarily scan for HFCS, but it's also a good way to see why, exactly, the cheaper house brand is, well, cheaper.

A recent revelation from label reading...I always buy Contadina tomato paste. Ingredients: tomatoes. Period. Nothing else. A few years ago, Contadina introduced a line of flavored tomato pastes. One which we accidentally picked-up was the tomato paste (product) with tomato pesto. Number two on the ingredient list? HFCS. The labels of the righteous tomato paste and the flavored tomato paste (product) are so similar that it's very easy to accidentally pick-up the crap when you were intending to get the good stuff.

Interesting to read about the pine nut situation. I was in our local mega-mart Saturday and noted that there were a boat load of bags of pine nuts on the shelves, where, normally, you have to ask where they are hiding the one little bag of pine nuts.
posted by Thorzdad 02 November | 11:17
... but if I'm being completely honest with myself, I also read the labels because my mother didn't --- not even the front label that tells you what you're buying, not even the color of the label (or, sometimes, of the food within).

She could easily return home with a bag half-full of the wrong items and no idea how that happened. "Diet raspberry ginger ale? Rye flour? A jar of alfredo sauce? Where did that come from?"
posted by Elsa 02 November | 11:17
I often read labels, in case something I dislike is stashed away in there. If there are bad things in there, I will try to avoid that food in future (I'm talking to *you* brominated veg. oil in my Fresca). In my imaginary life, I cook at home and make healthy foods from scratch, but in my real life, I thread a path between the lessers of evils.

Couple weeks ago, tried to read the toofpaste label w/out reading glasses. Not possible, in a hilarious, Mr. Magoo-ish way.
posted by theora55 02 November | 12:24
Another mostly whole-food-buyer here, but I do have some standard purchases that are processed and I read the labels for those: crackers (no sugars, no trans fats, no preservatives please), cookies/biscotti (similar except regular sugar is OK, obviously), pasta, tomato products, salsa.
posted by Miko 02 November | 13:49
Label reader here. I've got a kid with some food allergies, including gelatin. Who knew you could be allergic to gelatin? As a result, I know not only know that vegan marshmallows exist, but I have also in fact purchased said vegan marshmallows. Didn't see that one coming. They're dreadfully expensive, but on the plus side, they're also much tastier than the gelatin-laden ones.
posted by fogovonslack 02 November | 14:13
Complete derail, but I have a question.

It feels like lately (the last... 5? years) I have noticed people talking about "whole" foods a lot. Don't get me wrong, I know what y'all mean. It's just a different way of thinking about food for me - I think of "food" and "processed food".

Now I grew up eating very little processed food (we were very poor and grew most of what we ate, ate little meat etc.) and still don't eat much. So maybe that's coloring my perceptions. But I was wondering if the whole "whole food" terminology is

a) me just recently noticing it (by far the most likely)
b) becoming more widely used in the last while
c) a more USA thing that I just never picked up on until recently

Anyone enlighten me?
posted by gaspode 02 November | 14:19
I read a lot of ingredients. I can't have corn (so sad) and my son can't have either red 40 or yellow 5.

For me, corn makes me miserable. For him, artificial colors make everyone around him miserable.

I check the sodium level on foods that I know to be "pretty high" and look for the least (tomato sauce, tomato juice, canned beans, etc). I check calories and fat percentage on foods that I'm unfamiliar with, just so I know what I'm getting.

I check for nuts for things that go in lunches/snacks since schools are careful about nut-based foods.

The artificial colors are surprisingly ubiquitous. We got (unpleasantly) surprised by a store-made raspberry danish. Really? Red 40 in raspberry which is already red? WTF? Cheezits other than "regular" have either Yellow 5 or Red 40 or both. Almost every premade icing/frosting has some color in it, including white (white frosting usually has blue).
posted by plinth 02 November | 14:28
Oh yes indeed.

On whole foods that absorb pesticides (like berries) I check carefully to see if they are organic. I also choose local when there is a choice. And I won't buy meat if not grass fed, chicken/poultry unless free range, or eggs unless humanely produced. I'm picky about milk too -- has to be from a local farm I know where the cows are well treated and fed normal cow food like grass.

On other foods, I check for the following: 1) no pork or octopus. I don't eat smart animals; 2) low sugar. If it is much over 10g sugar, I try to steer clear; 3) low salt. If it is over 21% of RDA for sodium, not buying it; 4) calories per serving 5) no HFCS 6) no weird chemical compounds I don't recognize. I often look for fiber content, particularly for bread. And again, I look for local.

I also won't buy food/toiletries made by companies I can't stand like Con Agra and Tyson and Proctor & Gamble, so I check for the manufacturer or processor too.
posted by bearwife 02 November | 15:34
I always read the labels. I like knowing what an actual serving is and what goes into something that tastes good. You can figure out a recipe from a list of ingredients. I generally don't by foods with a lot of additives or preservatives in the first place, and I'm generally kind of surprised at how much sodium is in some things.
posted by ethylene 02 November | 16:52
I always read labels, just for fun. I try to aim for no HCFS if possible. I try for whole wheat and normal foodstuffs to be at the top of the list.

(Of course, I really shouldn't talk considering I just had ramen for dinner.)
posted by sperose 02 November | 17:51
gaspode, I think the "whole foods" usage is newish, or at least newish in popularity. I started seeing it a lot after Michael Pollan got raised to demi-god status, though I'm assuming it caught on because the Whole Foods chain already existed and so people had gotten used to thinking of unprocessed foods in those terms.

In the past, I probably would have used "unprocessed" and "processed" to describe the two groups.
posted by occhiblu 03 November | 00:01
For sodium content and because I eat two meals a day at most, anything near or under 30% per serving is great. The rationale may be incorrect, but if I'm eating two meals consisting of single-serving foods a day and each is under 30% of the USRDA, then I am only intaking 60% of the recommended sodium level and that's less than everyone else.

If anyone out there is a nutritionist, please don't burst my bubble.
posted by TrishaLynn 03 November | 07:00
ah, Michael Pollan. That theory makes sense, thanks occhiblu.
posted by gaspode 03 November | 08:09
I think "whole foods" is newish in popularity, but the phrase has been around a long time in culinary circles. I am sure of this because my summer camp went to a "whole foods" cooking plan in the mid 1980s, which is where I learned the term. That meant they stopped buying boxed mashed potato powder, preformed burgers, etc. I've always found it a handy term. The supermarket chain, I'm sure, helped make the term more familiar (though there's a bit of irony in that so much of the food sold at Whole Foods is highly processed).
posted by Miko 03 November | 09:42
Here's a bunch of food and cooking books published between 1970 and 1985 using the term "Whole Foods."
posted by Miko 03 November | 09:45

I guess the enthusiasm for whole foods has always baffled me a bit because I'm like, why *wouldn't* you want to eat real food instead of fake food? I guess it could be a hangover for people from the middle of last century when all the food technology stuff really took off.
posted by gaspode 03 November | 09:50
There was definitely a time when processed food was perceived as a gift, particularly to women, who could start to free themselves from daylong cooking/kitchen drudgery by using convenience products. I think people were legitimately excited by those food-tech ideas, with fantasties like being able to press a button and have a full prepared dinner. Space ice cream. Food that's shelf-stable practically forever. A continuous abundant supply of whatever you want, as opposed to waiting for seasons to come and go and change food availability, and experiencing periods of scarcity. Processed foods are perennial.

Also, it's hard to brand and market whole foods, so the money really goes behind the packaged processed foods, which can be designed and presented as fun consumer products with style and verve, and generate income for food developers, package designers, and advertisers by appealing to people on a consumer (rather than a "this tastes good and is good for me") basis.
posted by Miko 03 November | 10:12
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