It’s become most people’s habit to read food labels, especially to figure out the calorie counts, fat grams, and amounts of added sugars—such as sucrose, fructose, or glucose—and the amounts of sodium. Sodium levels can be particularly high with canned beans, and even if you like using the liquid packed with the beans, you’d be better off draining and rinsing the beans—and getting rid of excess sodium—before you use them.
As you look for whole-grain items, be sure that the word “whole-grain” comes first or second on the ingredients list; otherwise you may be getting a product that is not as wholesome as you want.
If you do stock up on canned goods, you should check that the products you buy are as free of added chemicals and preservatives as possible. You’ll also want to wise up on the number of servings and the calorie counts per serving—nutrition labels tell you what you find in one serving only—do not make the mistake that the figures refer to the entire contents.
Raw Vegetables and Fruits Count
Thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), retailers are more often providing shoppers with some basic nutritional information for the 20 most popular varieties of fruits and vegetables— including such items as peaches, pears, plums, cucumbers, cauliflower, and broccoli—in the produce bins. The information includes the name of the item, a suggested serving size, and the calories per serving. The labeling is voluntary, but many retailers are complying with the FDA’s request.
The Whys of Vegetarian and Vegan Labeling
When shopping, you must also learn to check the fine print: some manufacturers may disguise the fact that their product contains some animal product or products. Such ingredients as casein, rennet, gelatin, and glycerides all come from animals.
As the Vegetarian Resource Group points out, retailers now often package their vegetarian products with a vegetarian or vegan symbol. Finding such a symbol or all-veg food label should reassure you that what you are buying is animal-product free, but there are no government agencies that enforce this kind of labeling.
When Labels Say “Organic”
The USDA has established the National Organic Program, which requires that agricultural products labeled as “100 percent” organic must be just that, 100 percent organic, excluding water and salt. To find out more about this and all other food labeling, go to their website.
Even though no federal regulations control the labeling of vegetarian and vegan foods, government-approved certifiers do oversee the labeling of organic foods; if the label reads “organic,” then you can be sure it has been produced according to the strict laws supervising foods grown and labeled organic. That means what you are buying must contain 95 to 100 percent organic ingredients, and that the ingredients are grown without pesticides or other harmful chemicals added.
Buying fresh organically raised fruits and vegetables, however, does not mean you don’t have to wash your produce at home before using it. While your fruits and vegetables may not have been sprayed with pesticides, they may have been exposed to sprays and other chemicals just from the effects of natural weather conditions.