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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More About Interpreting Food Labels

Okay, as another object lesson, here's the ingredients for another drink, one very popular, at least 'round here, where--amazingly, to my mind--moms often buy it for their kids under the mistaken impression that it's like buying their kids "juice." Remember, by law, ingredients are listed in descending order. Whatever is listed first is what there is the most of, okay?

Corn syrup

2% or less of each of the following: concentrated juices (orange, tangerine, apple, lime, grapefruit)

citric acid

malic acid

ascorbic acid (vitamin C)

thiamin hydrochloride (vitamine B1)

Natural flavors

modified cornstarch

canola oil

sodium citrate

cellulose gum


sodium hexametaphosphate

potassium sorbate to protect flavor

yellow #5

Yellow #6
Mmmm, mmmm, MMMMMMM!!!!!! Doesn't that sound yummy? Well, maybe to the uninitiated. Let's talk. First of all, let's see if we can't put everything--the amount of everything--in perspective. Look at that third line. Isn't that telling you that except for water and corn syrup--to which we'll get back in a minute--none of the ingredients make up more than two percent of the drink? Sure looks that way to me. So, being very generous, let's assume that there's two percent of everything, which would be ludicrous, nobody's going to make a drink that's 2 percent vitamin B1, right?

Still...there are fifteen ingredients after water and corn syrup, so that's a maximum of thirty percent, meaning that, at minimum, this tasty beverage is seventy percent water and corn syrup. The reality is that hardly any of those fifteen ingredients is likely to amount to even one percent of the total volume of liquid, so it's really much more likely that this stuff is 85 or ninety percent water and corn syrup, and that's being generous. It might be 95 percent or even more.

Now, that's bad, right off the bat. The water's not bad, of course, but corn syrup...

Corn syrup deserves a special circle in culinary Hell. It is a sweetener, obviously made from corn, and it is cheap, partly because the growing of corn is federally subsidized. It is a nutritional nightmare. If you deliberately wanted to make yourself fatter than--well, fat--and wreak havoc with your insulin mechanism, this is one of the means by which you would choose to do it. It is vicious, nasty stuff, not something you want to put in your body if you can reasonably avoid it.

So, right off the bat, just after the first two ingredients, you can tell you're basically drinking sugar water. Yummy.

Concentrated fruit juices? Okay. That might not be so bad. You just have no clue how much you're getting here. Remember, it's two percent or less. Could be next to nothing.

Citric acid and malic acid? Added to give the drink that citrus-y tartness.

Vitamin C? Very cheap to make. Putting it in the drink allows them to put "Vitamin C!" on the label, which makes the ignorant feel like they're buying their kids something healthy. Same thing with the B1.

Natural flavors? What the heck is that?

Cornstarch. Anyone who's done a reasonable amount of cooking knows what the cornstarch is there for. It's a thickener, so that this concoction pours out of the bottle more like juice and less like water. It's also starch, that is, it'll fatten you.

Canola oil? There are some scare stories circulating about canola oil. As far as I'm concerned, it's just oil, probably added here to improve texture.

Sodium citrate? More tartness.

Cellulose gum? Added to improve texture. Remember, they want this stuff to look like juice.

Sucralose? Basically chlorinated table sugar. It's an artificial sweetener. Like having a bucketload of corn syrup in it didn't make it sweet enough already.

Sodium hexametaphosphate: in all honesty, I have no idea why this is in here. It has a variety of uses, one of which is apparently as a water softener!

Potassium sorbate: a preservative.

Yellow #5 and Yellow #6: artificial colors, fairly obviously added to make this sugar water look more "orange-y."

And there you have it. The bulk of the story is told in the first three lines. It's basically sugar water with a few cheaply-made vitamins and flavorings and some gunk to make it pour more like juice. Practically guaranteed to make you and your kids fatter than you ever wanted to think about, at least if you drink it on a regular basis. Drink this stuff regularly, and you can pretty much bet on fighting obesity, and maybe someday, heart disease and diabetes, too!

The pitiful part is that you can buy this stuff for about 2.75/gallon, and you can get Wal-Mart reconstituted orange juice for about 3.25/gallon. You'd put up with crap like this to save fifty cents?

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