You Need To Be A Detective To Find These Hidden Ingredients

October 2, 2012   37 Comments

Snack Girl is getting old and her eyes are going. Actually, I blame this screen I am sitting in front of for my inability to read labels.

Be an Artificial Ingredient Detective

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Lisa- I think you've highlighted the critical concept here: we should never assume that we know what's in a product (even if it's something we just bought the week before!); we ALWAYS need to read the labels to see what kind of garbage is trying to be sneaked-in on us.

I know that it's old news, but sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store helps avoid a lot of these kinds of additives, preservatives, and flavor enhancers. (About the only time I venture into the middle of the grocery store is to pick up a bag of popcorn kernels or a can of diced tomatoes (and even then, I wonder why calcium chloride is added to every freakin' one!).)

Thanks, as always, for keeping a watch on and reminding us of this important idea.

And I'd argue that there's nothing wrong with using a magnifying glass (or something like this:! I don't think any of us should let vanity result in our eating garbage!

Check out how many products have propylene glycol. It's used as a sweetener and humectant. It's anti freeze!

Hey snack girl, when you're talking of hidden ingredients... Get this one. My friend has celiac disease so cannot eat onions (garlic is ok though, oddly enough). Anyway, he was always in discomfort after a timmies breakfast and so asked if the hash browns had onions. The reply was surprising. 'No'. The hash browns don't BUT the EGGS do have onions! Who would have thought it!!!

It's sad that we even have to worry about all the extra ingredients that they put in items that really have no business being there. I no longer buy any baked goods anymore. If I don't make it I don't eat it. Using a lot of snack girl recipes. Trying to stay away from all pre-made items.


I was taught that such aloes, unlike the "artificial" substitutes, is a natural sugar derivative which has no side effects. What is it about this derivative you don't like?

I quit artificial sweeteners this year. I thought all I had to do was quit diet soda and that packet of splenda going into my coffee. I have now learned it's in everything and have to read labels. Its the only way to keep away from the stuff. I am starting to see it in bread too. Its lurking everywhere and it sneaks up on me everytime I get lazy about reading a label. Thanks for this article!

I called Pilsbury one day to ask why they have to put food coloring in their pie crust?! I was infuriated by the answer the woman gave me: Because it needs to look yellow! Hello, its pie crust its already a color when you make it. UGH

It is sooooo frustrating to find hidden ingredients in our food. I recently found out I have several food intolerances- gluten, nuts and soy being the main culprits... Try going to the store and finding ANYTHING without soy flour or soybean oil in it. Or HFCS (which I won't eat on principle). So now as your other readers have said I shop the perimeter and bake/mqke it myself. Then there's the food politics of local, organic, sustainable, grass fed.... It all gets confusing so fast. But I guess a piece of conventional fruit is better than fruit roll ups! :)

Years ago Cheerios had coloring added. Many consumers (mothers!) kept writing to them to complain and they finally took it out. Not sure what they contain now.

I have noticed this sneakiness as well. What is bad about the adding of artificial sweeteners is really is that some people could have reactions to the artificial sweetener. I look for ingredients with "ol" as the last two letters which indicates sugar alcohols….In some cases these "ol" act as really great laxatives. It infuriates me that these products say "all natural" and so one gets fooled. I usually can taste the sugar alcohol & I do not having to take hours to read every label. It is bad enough that I have to really watch the sodium because husband is on restricted sodium diet-CHF. The addition of these sweeteners are a really bad idea. I wonder why there being added . Who knows about these aloes & probably most won't get a reaction, but some surely will.

Dear Lisa,

As a registered dietitian, I should be reading labels all the time, but I get lazy about it too sometimes, so thank you for this article. It is a good reminder to work on the purity of my diet. I do have a question though on the sugar in the bagel. A bagel has wheat in it, which is a carbohydrate and would typically mean there would be a small amount of sugar in it naturally. The total carbohydrate count is primarily made up of sugars, fibers & starches. This is similar to the lactose (milk sugar) in milk, which people often confuse as added sugar. So are you referring to 10 grams of added sugar in the bagel? If so, I agree, WOW!

Not only do you need to read labels, you need to keep reading labels! You can't expect that because a certain brand you bought last week was okay, that it's going to be the same this week. Companies are constantly changing their formulas.

As a vegetarian who doesn't do artificial ingredients, I always, ALWAYS read labels. You never know what's going to have gelatin or Red #5 in it. Unless you grew it yourself, which is also a good idea.

I learned my lesson about foods labeled "no sugar added." I was fooled into thinking these peach cups were flavored with it's own natural juices but nope loaded with artificial sugars!

Use your dollar to vote for the products you believe are worth buying. any ingredients I don't like, I refuse to buy the product. I either make it from scratch at home or find a brand that has better ingredients. I shop in the 'natural' section quite a lot. You really have to read every single label these days!

I recently bought whole wheat cinnamon raisin swirl bread, Pepperidge Farm brand, and it has high-fructose corn syrup in it! I couldn't believe it. My solution is to make my own bread, but it's not always convenient! Ugh!

It's nice to see so many people care about what's in the food. I guess the more we educate our friends and pass on this information, the more people can make a statement (by not purchasing these items with bad ingredients). Then maybe we'll have more companies listening. Maybe we all should write these companies complaining!

@Jennifer - so the bagel has 53 grams carbohydrates and 10 grams sugar - sugar is the third ingredient (and they also list molasses and dextrose). My guess was that most of the 10 grams is added? It just seems like a lot of sugar in a bagel. Thanks so much for your question - it has me thinking.

I was reading the ingredients of a hot cocoa mix my husband had and it had trans-fat and HFCS in it. why does it need either ingredient. The angel food cake mix I was looking to buy had sodium lauryl sulfate. I don't buy shampoo with that so why would I want to eat it? I read my ingredients and drive my husband crazy while we food shop.

Lisa, I've found that you also have to re-check the labels of those products that you regularly buy, as their ingredients can change. I found that out after buying about $35 worth of frozen Wild Caught Salmon. The ingredients list that used to simply say "Salmon" was changed to include a chemical called sodium tripolyphosphate, which is used in this case to retain moisture and tenderness. :(

And that is a big reason why I shop the perimeter of the store. I may be a scientist, but I don't want somebody's chemistry experiment in my food.

This really gets under my skin!! especially abotu the colored pie crust and bagal!! WHY do these things need be be tampered with?! I really wish i had the time/money/space to just go back to tghe good ol days and grow my own, harvest my own and make my own food. Too bad my husband would never go for it!

Since sucralose is, for the most part, not even absorbed into the body but simply goes 'in one end and out the other', it is preferable to sweeteners such as aspartame. The only way to control your food is to make it yourself. I was surprised and angry when I bought some Campbell's tomato sopup and found at first bite something wrong with it. I went back and read the label. High fructose corn syrup had become a major ingredient. When I wrote the company and complained, I was rewarded with a stack of coupons good for soups. Pitched them!

The worst and most easily disguised ingredient that I've seen is MSG, which goes by a myriad of names: yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed oat flour (most ingredients with the word hydrolyzed contain MSG), autolyzed protein, soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, malt extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, caseinate. Ingredients that sometimes contain MSG are: natural flavors, whey protein, whey protein concentrate, soy protein, soy protein concentrate. The other day I was trying to find a healthy prepared soup in the grocery store and every single soup (except one organic brand) had MSG in the form of yeast extract-- including Progresso, which claimed "NO MSG!" in big bold letters but had the fine print: "except naturally occurring MSG"-- that's still the same good ol' MSG, guys.

@Jess - excellent comment; personally, I've dropped many "food" products because of their MSG-related additives.

Surely, we're not naive enough to think that companies add those MSG-related ingredients to food because it provides us with some critical missing nutrient; they add it because it makes us come back to the trough for more! :P

Thanks, but no thanks!

I have multiple serious food allergies and I can attest that ingredients pop up in unexpected places all the time! And they change frequently. I have been reading labels as long as I can remember! This is one of the perks of food allergies -- an extended level of ingredient consciousness. :)

They put these toxic nonfoods in packaged products, because I'm sure some "market research" suggested to them that moms were more likely to buy the lower calorie option. We need to show them that moms are even MORE likely to avoid poisoning their kids like the plague! I try to buy most of my packaged stuff (cereal, granola bars, etc) organic so I don't have to worry about poisons and GMOs. If I have to buy non-organic, I read the labels thoroughly. I'm always shocked at the fake sugars in stuff, but also the amount of sodium! I saw some packaged indian food that had 40% of daily salt in a one cup serving!! Insane.

As an aside, my sister was eating a lot of splenda (because it was "made from sugar"!!), and started getting actual fainting spells, which she had never had in her life. A friend from church told her that splenda was known to cause such side effects - my sister stopped eating it, and the fainting went away. She then immediately started having seizures, and is still on seizure meds to this day. She has absolutely no history of a seizure disorder and is in her late 30's, so while I can't "prove" that splenda caused this, it certainly doesn't look good.

I believe the brand name is Natures Harvest for bread w/o high FHCS in it. I get it at Giant. They have a high fiber one also.

Sucralose gives everyone in my house gas and a stomach ache.

Whole Foods is AGAINST labeling foods with GMOs, and have donated money to suppress GMO food labeling from being passed as a law. Don't count on Whole Foods to protect you. They sell foods with GMOs, such as Kashi.


Thanks for clueing me in. You might enjoy my post from 2009 on Spinning called: The ugly truth about soft drinks. It has actually influenced a mom to stop buying them, and has encouraged her to pass that along to her teens as something to really consider.

Dear Snack Girl,

With dextrose and molasses both listed in the ingredients, then there is some added sugar. Most items ending in the letters ose are a type of sugar. Some added sugar helps the yeast grow during the rising process, but some is added for flavoring. I don't like how companies add different types of sugar, which can be deceiving. Molasses may be added for a little extra coloring, as well as a particular flavor note.

Jennifer's insightful closing comment reminded me of "The Flavorists" segment from a 60 Minutes program:

Bottom line: Companies spend huge amounts of their resources to make you come back over and over again to their "food" products. (And that's why I try to avoid such garbage.)

Go to and watch a very revealing documentary on this very subject. It is is 1 1/2 hour long, but interesting and well worth it and FREE until midnight this Sat Oct 6.

Just don't eat anything your great grandmother would not recognize as food. I stopped eating all processed foods. ESPECIALLY anything that has grains in it!

Thanks for the article...reading labels adds a ton of time to my shopping trip :( but i do it! AND did you know that pickles, banana peppers and some jarred kalamata olives have food dyes??!!

you're right! what's yellow #5 and yellow #6 doing in a bagel!?

THANK YOU for this. I'm mildly allergic to artificial sweeteners so for me it's not just the "taste" that bothers me, and I swore there was something in my Swiss Miss. Won't be drinking that anymore, thanks for letting me know I'm not crazy!!

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