Shopping for your family at the grocery store has never been more complicated.
With labels screaming “low calorie,” “low sugar” and “reduced fat,” how can we really know what’s in the foods we’re buying for our families?
According to Diana Schnee, RD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, it’s important for parents to read between the lines and read the actual food label.
“If you’re buying foods that are labeled ‘low sugar’ or ‘reduced sugar,’ there’s actually a high chance that those foods do have non-nutritive sweeteners added,” she said. “So, it’s not just that they took the amount of table sugar that was in that product and reduced it. They’ve actually added either an artificial sweetener or some other type of non-nutritive sweetener to still keep this food tasting very sweet.”
A recent study looked at non-nutritive sweeteners and found that not only are more children and adolescents consuming these additives than ever before, but they are also consuming them in larger quantities.
Schnee said a non-nutritive sweetener is essentially high-intensity sweetener with little calorie value. And while the research is still unclear on whether these “sugar replacement” sweeteners are good or bad for our health, the bottom line is we still don’t know how much is in our food. So far, food companies are not legally required to disclose how much they are adding to their food products.
Schnee said one common misconception is that replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweeteners will cause children to eat fewer sweet foods. Unfortunately, she said, the low-calorie sweets taste just as sweet as the originals. And when children eat things that are super sweet, they can develop a taste for very sweet things.
Schnee advises parents to pay close attention to food ingredient labels. She said parents should be able to easily pronounce and recognize the ingredients of an item. If they can’t, chances are the ingredient is a chemical and highly manufactured, she said. To take the guess-work out of label-reading, Schnee said, the best thing parents can do is to opt for whole, natural foods as much as possible.
“I always say, ‘Choose real food,'" she said. “Choose food closest to its natural form. So, for example, instead of orange juice, choose oranges -- things that exist naturally.”