When You Read An Ingredients List Do You Feel Like A Moron?

March 3, 2011   20 Comments

After spending 9 LONG years in higher education, you would think that Snack Girl would understand the basic chemistry of food. Alas, she is lost when looking at some food packages.

Are Food Additives Safe?

NOTHING prepared me for evaluating "Whole Wheat Wonder Bread". Check out this ingredient list:

whole wheat flour, water, high fructose corn syrup or sugar, wheat gluten, yeast. Contains 2% or less of: soybean oil, salt, calcium sulfate, extracts of malted barley and corn, honey, corn syrup, soy flour,dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium dioxide, ethoxylated mono and diglycerides, dicalcium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, datem and/or azodicarbonamide), yeast nutrients (ammonium phosphate, ammonium chloride, ammonium sulfate and /or monocalcium phosphate), Enrichment (vitamin E acetate, ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, calcium sulfate, niacin, vitamin D, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, thiamine mononitrate and vitamin B12), Wheat starch, cornstarch, maltodextrin, vinegar, calcium propionate (to retain freshness), whey, soy lecithin.

So, what I wanted to do was tell you guys that it was great that Wonder Bread can be found in Whole Wheat. But, after looking at this list I "felt like a moron".

Fortunately, I found Ruth Winters and her book- "A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives" (2009). Ruth has tirelessly catalogued all the food additives for SEVEN editions to help people like me feel smart again.

Here is an entry on just one of the chemicals in the Whole Wheat Wonder Bread:

AZODICARBONAMIDE - A bleaching and maturing additive for flour. Used in amounts up to 45 ppm. The FDA wants further study of this chemical for both short-term and long-term effects. Although allowed as a food additive, this is no current reported use of the chemical, and, therefore, although toxicology information may be available, it is not being updated. This is a potentially serious problem. See Semicarbazide.

I chose azodicarbonamide on purpose because I know that this chemical has been banned in Australia and Europe. USA, hello?

(and now I bet you want to see the entry for "semicarbazide")

And, yeah, I would avoid it. There are breads out there with ingredients lists that look like this: whole wheat flour, water, salt, yeast and they taste better so I wouldn't buy this bread.

Ruth was kind enough to give me an interview about her book. See below:

Snack Girl: You have written 7 editions of "A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives". What inspired you to start?

Ruth Winters: When my daughter was about 4 years old, she had a terrible case of hives which neither the pediatrician nor the allergist could find that causes.

Finally, the allergist said: “Maybe it’s the penicillin in the milk”. I was a reporter at the time at The Newark-Star-Ledger and I said, “What is penicillin doing in the milk?”

He said, “Well, the farmer treat mastitis in cows themselves without the need of a prescription for antibiotics. They are supposed to throw the milk from the infected cows away. But the milk is pooled from various farms so it is difficult to know who put the penicillin in the pool.”

And that’s how I started. Like everyone else, I thought the FDA was looking over every food producers shoulder to check the ingredients of food. I found I was really naive.

I began investigating food safety and the result was first, "POISONS IN YOUR FOOD "and the second was .

During my research, I found there were absolutely no government regulation of cosmetics and the result was . The latter two books are now in their seven editions recent released and the second edition of "POISONS IN YOU FOOD" is still available in stores and on line.

Snack Girl: Do you think the FDA is doing its job?

Ruth Winters: There are dedicated people in the FDA but they are grossly understaffed and underfunded and are a political football.

For example, the formulae for cosmetics given to the FDA are strictly voluntary and the FDA promises the companies they will protect the info from competitors. There is one FDA person in the room with the secreted formulae and when he or she has to go to the restroom, the door to the room is locked and unguarded.

The new FDA director seems to be enthusiastic about changing things but we will have to see if she can…there are a lot of cuts and controversy going on in government. The food additive and cosmetic manufacturers have powerful lobbies and a lot of money.

Everytime the FDA has taken them to court, the FDA spends a lot of its sparse money and loses the case... so most of the time, they don’t bother.

Now most of our food additives and cosmetic ingredients are made in China and India. The FDA in a gesture, opened up a three-person office in China to oversee the multi-billion dollar food and cosmetic ingredient industries.

Snack Girl: When you go grocery shopping, what do you absolutely avoid?

Ruth Winters: High salt and high sugar products… most packaged cereals

Snack Girl: What is your favorite snack?

Ruth Winters: Hint of Salt Triscuits and plain popcorn.

Thanks so much, Ruth! I gotta try those Triscuits.

How do you feel about food additives?

Want to read about snacks?
Try This Healthy Pie.....Naked
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The Cheater's Guide to Healthy Yogurt

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My wife asked me to purchase ingredients for a Weight Watchers' lower calorie pie. It included key lime jello (tons of additives - fake food), graham cracker pie crust (contains trans fats), and Cool Whip (lots of trans fats). I call this low calorie key lime pie, the Trans Fat Pie.

Unfortunately, when we think of losing weight, we are not looking at the other side of the coin ... health.

Ken Leebow

Many times when something is "low-fat" or "fat-free" it's full of artificial sweeteners and additives. If it seems unnatural for a cake to be fat free, that's because it is.

It's sad, when people see that something is "low-fat" and they think it's healthy but it's not.

Hi Snack-Girl. This is a very useful post. Thanks for sharing. Well, I fell sad about this, because the people who make this kind of "food" they are only thinking about money, money and money. They don't care about anything else. A clear example is when Ruth Winters talks about the milk and the penicillin (Great interview by the way). I try to avoid all the low-fat, 0 calorie foods, etc. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one.

I don't like the "HFCS or Sugar"...which is it? Because I will NOT eat anything with HFCS but will sugar.

Great post, thanks for sharing the info on the books. I try to avoid low cal, sugar free type foods exactly for that reason...too long of an ingredient list that I cannot pronounce. My girls (9,8, and twins who are 6) read labels with me in the grocery store to help pick out snacks for lunches etc, cereal etc.. If they have a hard time pronouncing anything, it usually goes back on the shelf :)

This sentence says it all: "There are breads out there with ingredients lists that look like this: whole wheat flour, water, salt, yeast and they taste better so I wouldn't buy this bread." Thanks for once again raising my awareness.

So which breads do you buy with the list like that? A slice of bread with some peanut butter or jam or both is a great snack, especially loved by kids. How about a good "healthy white" and other breads list from our favorite Snack Girl?? ;-)

Great Post. It certainly pays to be educated about the ingredients in our foods. Once you learn about all the unnecessary junk in our foods - you begin to wonder who's looking out for us - the consumers? And now the FDA is considering changing the name of "High Fructose Corn Syrup" to "Corn Sugar" on packages - which could mislead consumers.

@Angie - I wrote this a while back - I like Alvarado Bakeries bread which you can find in the "Natural Foods" freezer section - Ezekiel bread is another good choice. There is an organic white whole wheat at Whole Foods which my kids love and has a very "clean" ingredient list. It is difficult because so many of the packaged bread have a bunch of preservatives to extend shelf life.

Anyone read Food Rules by Michael Pollen? He nicely sums up what you should (and shouldn't eat) and indeed has simple guidelines, like don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize, or packaged foods with more than about five ingredients. A quick, easy, and incredibly informative read.

I think it's important that we remember our history regarding food safety. In 1906 Upton Sinclair published "The Jungle" and sparked a governmental and public movement to make our food supply safer.

We, in the US, have one of the safest food supplies in the world and it's becoming safer as we learn more. The FDA and CDC are doing the best job they possibly can to protect consumers given their limited staff and the painstaking detail they go through to prove cause, including DNA matching. The time used to blame these agencies could be used in a more productive manner.…

The first responsibility must fall upon us, the consumer. Label reading and research using reliable sources is mandatory. Blaming the "food industry" is vague (what about all the members doing a good job?) and not very efficient. Put your money where your mouth is; if we quit buying crap then producers would stop selling crap. Unfortunately, I'm preaching to the choir because the people reading this are probably more educated about the subject than the average citizen, but what are you doing to educate those around you? Snack Girl has her blog, Allison is reading labels with her kids, and I'm a Family and Consumer Science teacher in a public high school. I've even been known to educate people in the aisles of the grocery store (it embarasses my children but those I talk with appear to appreciate the information.) Talk to your neighbors and your kids' friends, write your Representatives, cook meals with a group to freeze for later "fast food," raise chickens in your back yard (legal in most cities to have 3 hens,) plant a tomato this year... it all helps.

Finally, join your local CSA. It's time!

I'm an obsessive label reader, because my son has life threatening food allergies. Thanks for the reminder that ingredients aren't just potentially deadly in the short term, but unhealthy in the long!

The lack of regulation of ingredients on health & beauty products is especially infuriating to me. My son has had more than one reaction (hives) to different hair products, and once I barely found out there was milk in an asthma med before giving it to him.

I read an article yesterday about MSG and its ability to make us fat. It is actually fed to mice to make them fat so they can study weight loss. It is in most of the packaged foods we eat, so no wonder we have such a fat nation! Snack Girl, would you like to investigate this further/

Buying bread in the supermarket is torture for me. I can easily kill 30 minutes picking up and putting down packages trying to find the shortest and most recognizable ingredient list. My latest solution: buy sliced bread from a real bakery and freeze it. Then we always have fresh, real bread on hand.

What we put in our mouth is not what you think. The labels are false, the word naturals means nothing. With all those additives, sugar, food coloring and a lot more... our kids are going to pay the price in the near future. I published recipe book for kids with food allergies and for everybody who wants a healthy snack.Time wasted on the computer or TV can be spend in the kitchen baking for a healthier lifestyle. Visit the website and enjoy 2 recipes;

I try not to buy anything with ingredients I cannot pronounce. Period. (Except for Spam - but none of us are perfect...haha)

Wondering what we as American can do to change this? I can't afford to buy all organic, but it's crazy that we are basically being poisoned.

@Joleen: Eating local is a great way to initiate food change. As Melanie said above, join a CSA, find a farmer's market or farm stands (her link: will help you find all of those). Food & buying cooperatives are also a great place to find healthy and affordable food: Some farmers grow chemical-free without being able to afford organic labeling--ask around.

You can make food change through your purchasing choices. Educate yourself & educate your friends & family. If you've got non-chain supermarkets, make requests for healthier/locally sourced/organic/chemical free products. Many stores will do special orders with no extra cost; some offer discounts for bulk orders, too.

PS: I make my own bread because I can't stand that grocery store dilemma--and I can't afford the amazing artisan bread a few local bakeries sell. It's easier than you think, and you can make several loaves at a time and freeze 'em. Or, make up an 'ice box' dough and bake fresh rolls/bread every day.

I love the comment above of the woman eating totally healthy except for SPAM... that it is probably one of the worst foods and cancels out our thoughts that you otherwise eat healthy! I think we are question "what really is SPAM?"

Claims on food labels called misleading.

Worth reading!

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