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Opinion: Why food labels annoy me

Food labels annoy me. Actually, let me rephrase that. Confusing and unhelpful food labels annoy me.

It all started when I was pregnant. I became obsessed with food labels. I wanted to avoid “fake” stuff as much as possible. I started drinking organic milk, buying free range meat. I stopped drinking diet soda. I wanted to make sure everything I was putting in my body would be good for my growing baby. So, I read all the food labels and whenever I didn’t understand something I’d put it back on the shelf.

Of course, now that I’m a mom, the obsession continues. I don’t want to feed Enzo junk, and there’s A LOT of junk out there! When Enzo started eating solids, I tried to buy only organic fruit and veggies and made his food. But now Enzo is going to day care, play dates and birthday parties. I realize I can’t control what happens outside my home. But I can control what I bring home, so I still read the labels.

Food labels are annoying for many reasons. Here’s a few:

First, they don’t just give you information that is easy to read. Take calories, for example. Say a product has 150 calories per serving, but wait! The serving size is 2 oz. and the bag is 12 ounces.   What do they expect me to do? Count out the number of pretzel sticks in 2 oz.? Or actually take a kitchen scale and measure 2 ounces?

If you have read labels you know what I’m talking about. I don’t need to know how many calories there are in 2.5 ounces of ham; can’t it just say how many calories one slice of ham has? Surely that can’t be so hard?!

What about the utterly unpronounceable ingredients? There should be a rule against those! Ingredients with more than four syllables should not be allowed.   Like cyanocobalamin. What does that mean? It’s synthetic vitamin B in case you’re wondering…I know because I looked it up.  So why can’t it just say “artificial Vitamin B”… probably because people would avoid anything that had the word “synthetic” or “artificial” in it.

The most amazing (=shocking) thing I discovered when I became obsessed with food labels was the different ways there are to call sugar, sugar.  According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, these include: anhydrous dextrose, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, honey, invert sugar, maltose, maples syrup, molasses, nectars, pancake syrup, sucralose,  evaporated corn sweetener, crystal dextrose, liquid fructose, sugar cane juice, fruit nectar, etc.

One last thing, why do so many products have so MANY ingredients? If a product has 25 (unpronounceable) ingredients it is safe to say I’m putting to back in the shelf. Sometimes, I feel like I’m reading out of my chemistry text book.

The reason I spend so much time reading labels is for my family’s health. Our food shouldn’t be so processed that the bulk of ingredients are unpronounceable, nor should they contain five different added sugars.

Isn’t the point of food labels to help us understand what we are eating, and to help us make informed decisions about our food?

Is it too much to ask that the information be presented in a way that is easy to understand? We can’t be informed parents if the information provided is confusing.

Food labels shouldn’t be so confusing. That’s the bottom line. But maybe, the problem isn’t just food labels. It’s the food itself. Sadly, that is a much bigger issue.

NBC Latino contributor Diana Limongi

Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.

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