Are You Eating Cat Food For Dinner?

How does this ingredient list sound?

Potatoes, corn, sunflower seed oil, onion powder, salt, and cheddar cheese.

How about this nutrition facts panel?

Twenty-one grams of protein, 30 percent daily value of calcium, 10 percent daily value of iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and only 160 calories.

If you were tempted by either of these foods, then you might be surprised to find out that they are flavored Lay’s potato chips and a Lunchables snack pack, and not the healthy alternatives you may have expected.

Darryl Hicks from Apple Valley, Minnesota has seen his fair share of tricks over the years. He has made a point of educating potential Members about the danger of processed foods and food labels and the virtues of whole foods.

"People need to realize that you can find bad products - unhealthy products - that are labeled healthy," Darryl says. 

"If companies want to put on the big words that it has fiber and glucosamine but it has 12 grams of sugar, frosting, and sprinkles, I think your knower knows. I think your innards really know whether it's right or wrong.

"You can find a good label to support a bad eating habit. It takes what you really want to do, and if you really want to shop by the labels, then you're better off finding out what the whole thing is about and not just picking items based on a first impression."

Darryl has made a career out of selling this idea of whole food health to everyone who'll listen … and everyone who will participate. Darryl's pitch can be as straightforward as a friendly chat and as hands-on as a presentation.

One of his most effective visual aids involves the ingredient lists of Cheerios and cat food. Darryl takes two unmarked paper bags and fills them with one of each product. Then he writes down the specific ingredient list of each product on the outside of the bag, has the person read the ingredients list to himself, and lets him pick which one sounds like the best option for dinner. Invariably the cat food is the one selected.

"It tells us in this day and age that we can't shop by labels alone," Darryl says. "My experiment is an attention-getter. If you think you're just going to shop by the labels of today's foods, then we're in trouble. My experiment sets the platform to introduce whole food, whole-food concentrates, enzymes, even basic cell metabolism."

Darryl's cat food and Cheerios visual serves to point out a very important lesson: there is great danger in the foods we eat, and we are getting little help from the labels.

Nutrition labels have been around since 1994, but people still tend to misinterpret them and ignore them all together. Their set-up is basic enough; each label has three main parts: servings, nutrition information, and ingredients. And there is much to learn about all three.

Servings and nutrition information present similar challenges for understanding what they say. Rarely is a product’s label as simple and straightforward as it seems it should be.

Serving sizes often are listed as fractions of the product's actual size, split up into amounts that declare attractive nutrition information without belying the product’s overall unhealthy message. 

For instance, a bag of potato chips will show nutrition information per serving, but there may be four and five servings in each bag. Therefore, a consumer has to do some quick multiplication to find out the real damage done by the whole bag and not just a small portion.

While serving size and nutrition information can be confusing, the real trouble on product labeling is in the ingredients.

As Darryl is able to point out with his experiment, there can be a lot of hidden meaning found in the ingredients list of certain products, even products that consumers typically trust. Companies will go to great lengths to make sure that their products don’t get passed over for something that might read better.

One trick to be aware of is the way that companies hide sugars in the ingredients list. With the goal of moving sugars out of the top three ingredients listed, they split up the sugars and give them different names so that they can be listed further down. 

For instance, names like sucrose, dextrose, and high fructose corn syrup are commonly found in ingredient lists because they keep sugar from being the first ingredient listed. The nutrition or value doesn’t change, but the information does.

"Label padding" is another popular ingredient label trick that specifically targets those who seek out healthy ingredients, fooling shoppers into thinking there is more of a certain ingredient than there really is. 

Label padding occurs when companies include desirable ingredients that appear in negligible amounts in their product. 

Herbs and superfoods are popular additives that make the ingredient list look better, but don't really have any impact on the overall health profile of the product.

Another seedy strategy is hiding harmful ingredients behind complicated and ambiguous wording. 

Terms like sodium nitrite might not cause a consumer any pause, but sodium nitrite is actually highly carcinogenic and can cause certain cancers. Other ingredients to be wary of include sulfites, MSG, and tartrazine.

One of many ways that The AIM Companies is set apart from the competition is in its honest, enviable product labeling. AIM has always sought to be straightforward and transparent in its product packaging, which is why so much care and attention is put into every detail of the products’ nutrition labels. 

There is no "label padding" and misleading verbiage. AIM's products have nothing to hide and the labels reflect that.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about most of the other foods that consumers purchase. Excluding the safety of shopping with AIM, health-conscious consumers have their work cut out for them if they want to find the right foods to eat. 

One strategy, according to Darryl, is in changing the way you navigate the grocery store.

"If you're shopping on the interior aisles of the supermarket, you're probably in the bad area," says Darryl. 

"Just shop on the outskirts and you'll be fine. The vegetables, dairy, and meats are all on the outside; that's where you want to be. On the inside, where everything's in the box, that's trouble. Whatever you crave is your worst enemy."

If the supermarket operated like an AIM product label, shopping would be an honest, efficient breeze.

But since it doesn't, consumers will have to be a little more careful in their shopping regimens. If they're not, it could mean cat food for dinner.
Paul Eilers is an Independent Member of The AIM Companies™