This may not come as a bubble-bursting surprise to many of you, but there isn’t always food in our food. Carrageenan, azodicarbonamide, propylene glycol and other unpronounceable additives hide in processed foods.
Sadly, even seemingly straight-forward foods are deceptively mislabeled. Here are eight offenders, along with practical tips for buying unadulterated versions of these foods.
1. “Wild” Salmon
I’m just as bummed as you to put this on the list! Unfortunately, according to natural foods expert Mark Sisson, even when salmon is labeled “wild” it can spend half its life in a hatchery before being released into the wild (source). And while this isn’t as bad as fully-farmed salmon, it still presents some big problems.
For example, even a short stint in a hatchery leads to the accumulation of toxins such as dioxins and PCBs. While wild fish contain measurable levels of these toxins, it is extremely higher in farmed fish. Further, the partially-farmed fish will have been fed protein pellets during their time in confinement which alters the omega-3 content for the worse (source).
So how do we know when wild salmon is really wild? First, Dr. Weil says, “You’re better off assuming that salmon sold as wild during the period from November to March really is farmed.” Second, look to the price tag for a hint. Really wild salmon is going to be more pricey. While I haven’t been able to find a watertight rule for sourcing wild salmon, your best bet is to discuss the source of the fish with your fishmonger. Additionally, keep in mind that many experts believe the health properties of even partially-farmed outweigh the potential problems. It’s certainly not a black-and-white issue.
2. “Raw” Almonds
Yes, I have a bone to pick with almond flour. I also have a bone to pick with regular ol’ raw almonds because they aren’t raw, even when labeled so.
Yep, U.S. grown almonds, even if labeled “raw” are not raw. That’s because pasteurization by irradiation, ultra high heat, steam or chemical sterilization is required for all domestically grown almonds. Sadly, these processes damage the enzymes, fatty acids and integrity of the almonds.
These organic almonds are truly raw – imported from Spain where pasteurization isn’t required. Also, one reader told me that she is also able to purchase truly raw almonds direct from a farmer in California, before the almonds are treated.
3. Mislabeled Olive Oil
Did you know the majority of olive oils imported from Italy don’t meet industry standards, meaning these oils are rancid or cut with cheaper oil such as canola oil? Yep, numerous studies point to the fact that, when purchasing Italian olive oil, you are probably getting an adulterated product (source and link to the studies).
Producers frequently cut olive oil with cheap seeds oils, usually canola oil, and this additive remains undisclosed on the product label. In many cases, you’ll have better luck purchasing a good olive oil if it comes from California, not Italy.
Buy top quality olive oil or risk eating some rancidified canola oil in your homemade salad dressing. This is the trusted and truly pure olive oil I use in my home. It’s certainly not the only unadulterated olive oil, but it’s the one I use.
Store brand honeys (you know… those ubiquitous honey-filled plastic bears) are an extremely processed product. Pasteurized at very high heat, the enzymes are denatured and probiotics killed. Additionally, these processed honeys are often completely stripped of the beneficial pollen.
The worst part about processed honey, however, is not what is removed but what is added. Processed honey is usually diluted with corn syrup to increase profits, even if the product is labeled “pure honey.” Unless the container states “100% pure honey,” you can assume that it is cut with corn syrup. Various brands of processed honey tested positive for traces of antibiotics and heavy metals (source). Yuk!
Purchase only raw honey (also called unpasteurized). Ideally, purchase locally produced organic honey. If that isn’t an option, I recommend this organic honey available online.
5. Mislabeled Cinnamon
Most cinnamon available on supermarket shelves is cassia cinnamon, also called Chinese cinnamon. True cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia has more of a bite and is darker whereas Ceylon cinnamon offers a warmer, rounder flavor and lighter color. The Ceylon version comes with a higher price tag, however, which is why cassia vastly more popular (source).
Another concern is the coumarin content of the different cinnamons. Cassia contains 5% coumarin, a moderately toxic component, while Ceylon has only .4%. Small amounts of cassia shouldn’t cause a problem, but it can cause liver damage in sensitive individuals (source).
You can find organic Ceylon cinnamon here. Use it wherever a recipe calls for cinnamon. I always emphasize the importance of purchasing organic spices, since non-organic spices are usually irradiated (which alters the spices integrity).
6. Maple Syrup
Think you don’t need to read the labels on a bottle of – supposedly – maple syrup? What’s in the title should be in the bottle, right? Think again. Many so-called syrups don’t contain any maple syrup at all! Zero, zip, nada. Instead, high fructose corn syrup, colorings, artificial flavors, and a slew of preservatives create the processed pancake topper. These syrups aren’t allowed to use the term Maple Syrup on the bottle (thank goodness!) and instead are usually labeled maple-flavored syrup, table syrup or pancake syrup.
Don’t be fooled by marketing terms like “All Natural Table Syrup,” either. Syrups sporting this label contain no maple syrup, only a hodgepodge of sugars, sweeteners and flavorings.
Purchase only 100% pure maple syrup, ideally Grade B like this one for the best flavor and nutrient profile. The label on the bottle should say pure maple syrup or 100% pure maple syrup.
7. Canned Pumpkin
I recently learned from Learning and Yearning that canned pumpkin often contains a variety of squashes – not just pumpkin – to create the desired color and texture.
According to the FDA compliance and Policy Guide,
Canned “pumpkin” has for many years been packed from field pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) or certain varieties of firm-shelled, golden-fleshed, sweet squash (Cucurbita maxima), or mixtures of these. Pumpkin and squash are sometimes mixed intentionally to obtain the consistency most acceptable to users. (Read more.)
So squash in canned pumpkin isn’t as nefarious as, say, the canola oil hidden in olive oil. But still, when I’m making pumpkin pie I want it to be pumpkin pie, not squash pie. That’s why I either roast my own pumpkins (here’s how) or purchase this brand of pumpkin which contains only Golden Delicious Pumpkin (I checked with the company). You’ll find it online or in your health food store.
8. “Cage Free” and “Free Range” Eggs
Both the terms “cage free” and “free range” sound good, right? These words may conjure pictures of happy chickens running around in the sunlight, laying eggs for your omelet. Sadly, these are marketing terms that do not ensure humane living conditions for chickens.
“Cage Free” means only that the bird is packed into a small, poorly ventilated, enclosed space where it barely has room to walk, let alone spread its wings. It is fed an improper diet of grains and soy, leading to poor quality eggs. The term “free range” isn’t much better either, according to Dr. Mercola:
While flimsy definitions of “free range” allow such facilities to sell their products as free range, please beware that a hen that is let outside into a barren lot for mere minutes a day, and is fed a diet of corn, soy, cottonseed meals and synthetic additives is NOT a free-range hen, and simply will not produce the same quality eggs as its foraging counterpart… (Read more)
Here’s a surprising tip: don’t purchase eggs that boast a vegetarian-fed diet. Chickens aren’t vegetarians! They long to forage, pecking grubs and worms from the ground. Purchase your eggs from chickens who are given space to forage. Look for the term “pastured” on the box. You’ll get the best eggs if you buy from your local farmer’s market or straight from your local farmers.
Are you on the lookout for mislabeled foods? How do ensure that there is really just what you want in your food?