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Beware: Misleading Ingredient Names Explained

Posted: 09/23/10 03:20 PM ET

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As someone who is health conscious, I read a lot of labels. My general rule is to buy foods that list ingredients I can pronounce, but there are at least two things I additionally watch out for: ingredients that sound healthy but aren’t (I try to avoid those) and obscure ingredients that sound scary but are basically harmless.


The latest ingredient to request a “healthier-sounding” name change? High-fructose corn syrup. Last week, the Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms who make the product, petitioned the FDA to change the ingredient’s name to “corn sugar.” The group has many reasons for wanting the change, including changing public perception of this controversial ingredient. But two respected nutrition watchdogs, EatingWell advisory board member Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, and Michael Jacobsen, director of a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition and health advocacy group, Center for the Science in the Public Interest, told the New York Times that the new term “corn sugar” is a more accurate description for high-fructose corn syrup, which is a mixture of glucose and fructose.


Related: Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Worse for You Than Sugar? Find Out Here.


I talked to EatingWell’s nutrition editor, Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., about HFCS and 4 more ingredients that sound healthier than they are, plus 4 obscure-sounding ingredients that are basically harmless. (Note: This is not a complete list, just some highlights to pay attention to.) Here’s her advice on how to decode them:


Related: Yogurt & More: 6 healthy-sounding foods that really aren’t


Watch Out for These Ingredients That Sound Healthier Than They Are:


Fruit Juice Concentrate
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What it is: An alias for added sugars, which supply calories but little to no nutritional value. This also applies to: corn sweetener or syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, syrup and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

Why you should watch out: Because high intakes of added sugars are linked with increased risks for high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, risk factors for heart disease, The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars, advising that women eat no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, or about 6 teaspoons, and men should stick to less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons. (A 12-ounce can of cola has about 8 teaspoons.) Added sugars in processed foods are difficult to track. "Sugars" on Nutrition Facts panels include added sugars and natural sugars found in healthful foods (fructose in fruits, lactose in dairy). In general, the closer added sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains.
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Click here for our recommendations for some of the healthiest packaged salad dressings, mayonnaise, crackers, pasta sauces and granola bars.

Related: 3 Ways to Find the Healthiest Supermarket Breads


Obscure-Sounding Ingredients That Are Basically Harmless:


Inulin
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What it is: Not to be confused with insulin, a hormone that regulates energy and glucose metabolism in the body, inulin is a soluble fiber found naturally in bananas, onions and some plants.

What it does: It is added to processed foods to replace sugar, fat and flour. Bonus: It can help increase calcium absorption and can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria added to yogurt.
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By Michelle Edelbaum

Michelle Edelbaum

Michelle is web editor for EatingWell Media Group. She puts her background in journalism to work online at EatingWell.com and in each issue of EatingWell magazine, authoring The Fresh Interview with interesting people in the world of food and health.

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