Is Free Ever Really Free?
When I was a child and I complained about something being unfair, the answer was oftentimes “Life is unfair.” And while I don’t necessarily believe that anymore, what I do know is that very little in life is free -- at least when it comes to food and health.
Like when a product is advertised as being sugar free, or free from sodium. The tricky part is that while the manufacturers may have removed one ingredient, they will invariably have had to make up for it in other ways. So fat free might mean higher in sugar, salt, flavourings or other additives. Sugar free might mean a higher proportion of artificial sweeteners. No sodium might mean more fat, more sugar, more MSG.
Because companies are interested in turning a profit, which can only happen if what they offer is tasty enough to get us coming back for more.
Food labels love to state two things: what “bad” things they don’t contain – like sugar, fat and salt – and what “good” things they are full of – like calcium, probiotics, iron, etc. But what about everything else that makes up said food?
When I watch television in the US, I often wonder whether it is the advertisements that are the filler in between the shows, or vice versa – well, the same question can be asked about foods: is it the ingredients that are plastered on the packaging in big letters and make all kinds of health claims that truly make up the candy bar, cereal, soup, or is it everything that remains in small print?
The easiest way to check for yourself is to simply compare two labels. Take yoghurt, for example. Yoghurt is touted as a good source of good bacteria and calcium. However, people have become afraid of eating too much fat in recent years, and so many have switched to low or no fat versions.
I compared an original flavoured mainstream yoghurt in both the full and 0.1% fat version and came up with the following:
In the original, the ingredients listed were as follows:
Yoghurt (skimmed milk concentrate, cream, yoghurt cultures), skimmed milk, liquid sugars (sucrose 7.3%), dextrose, L. Casei imunitass cultures.
The 0.1% contained:
Yoghurt (skimmed milk, skimmed milk concentrate, yoghurt cultures), water, skimmed milk, dextrose, stabilizer (pectin), L. Casei imunitass cultures, flavouring, sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame K).
So what you’re saving in fat – 1.5 grams per 100 grams or per pot – you’re ingesting in stabilizer, flavourings (which is usually a legal way of saying “you don’t want to know”), aspartame (an artificial sweetener associated with close to 100 side-effects including personality changes, anxiety, palpitations, nausea, and seizures to name a few), and acesulfame K (also known as E950 in the EU, which may be carcinogenic as well as affect the thyroid). In other words, is free from really free, or will we simply be paying the price elsewhere?
I have gotten fantastic feedback on this newsletter as well as the blog – much of it wonderfully informative and positive J
The reaction that most puzzles me, however, are the readers who tell me simply that they don’t want to know, people who don’t want to spend the extra two minutes comparing labels, but will gladly sit in a doctor’s waiting room for an hour; people who don’t want to pay the extra money for fresh food but will spend thousands on antacids and pain relievers.
I think the one thing we can all agree on is that pills are neither free from expense nor side-effects. So why not try to start your journey to better health taking those few moments, spending those few cents? It could save you a lot more in the long run.
Maybe nothing in life is free, but I promise, it isn’t all such hard work either.
P.S. What do you get when you combine purple carrots, roasted fennel and crunchy radicchio? Why don’t you find out in this week’s Friday Night Dinner blog?