It’s so easy to get caught up in and fall for the marketing strategies companies lure us with, no matter what kind of product or brand we are shoppinng for. All companies want us to buy their products over the next guy’s, and will do pretty much anything it takes to make themselves look more enticing to their consumers.
I’m discovering the importance of taking the extra time required to really read, inspect, and research the ingredients in the products and foods I buy more and more. I’m in disbelief over the checmials and additives that are legal in our country, but I can’t deny the reality and need to be smart about how I spend my family’s money. Every dollar we spend should be considered a vote, and if it’s a product with ingredients I don’t support or believe will contribute to the overall health of myself and my family, I refuse to donate my hard-earned money to it’s cause.
My father-in-law’s birthday was last weekend and I set out to make him his favorite cake. We needed cooking spray, so I stood in the baking aisle and looked through my options. I narrowed it down to these two, and took a look at their ingredients to make my final choice. I believe the NP spray was around $3.99 and Chosen Foods was around $6.50. That’s a decent price gap, obviously, but I’ve learned that you get what you pay for.
Both contained coconut oil, but I found the ingredients list to be very different.
While the NP spray didn’t seem to be terrible, it’s still not great or as completely trustworthy as the Chosen Foods spray was, reflecting “expeller-pressed liquid coconut oil” as it’s only ingredient. While it is a product of Mexico and I would prefer to buy something made in the states, it was definitely the cleanest option and ended up making it’s way into my kitchen. The Nature’s Promise brand, while free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, still contained “Natural Flavors” and a propellant, two additives I don’t find to be completely necessary. And let me just say - when I got home to bake that cake, I found that the Chosen Foods spray bottle is so wonderful to use. The spray comes out seamlessly, so smooth, and gives the most even coating I've ever seen from one of these sprays. I'll keep going back to this brand from now on! And the can is smooth with a matted finish, easy to hold, and just all around fun to use somehow. Never thought I'd say that about a cooking spray... You also spray the pan with the bottle pointed down into the pan, which to me means that I won't be wasting any of the contents once it's at the end of it's life.
What are Natural Flavors anyway??
It sounds pretty cut and dry, but just like the term "fragrance" on the back of your labels, it's unfortunately not that simple. For the sake of labeling, this term describes a flavor that’s derived from a spice, fruit, juice, veggie, plant-based material, meat, or dairy product. They want us to think that the flavors themselves come from the actual plant or animal. And though they may, a single “natural flavor” combo can contain about 100 varying components, according to the Environmental Working Group. These often include solvents, emulsifiers, preservatives, and more - to preserve the "natural" ingredients being used or mixed together. Often times, these additives are artificial. Even if some say that these additives probably won't hurt me, it's still a gray area and it makes me uncomfortable.
The term "natural flavors" sounds like it shouldn't be harmful, but here's what I've gathered... The FDA maintains that everything under this term must be derived from actual food, but I'm still not convinced that they are made of things I'd allow myself and my family to consume, considering all of the other decisions the FDA has made on what is "safe" for us to put on or into our bodies. There are over 2,500 ingredient combinations that classify as "natural flavors", and there aren't many people outside of the manufacturers of this stuff that know just what those ingredients actually are.
How do they get away with saying these flavors are "natural"? Because the initial ingredient that they source for the flavor isn't man-made. But two neurotoxins or excitotoxins (substances that harm the brain) like MSG and aspertame, along with many other flavor enhancers are often hidden under the term "natural flavor". You'll even see words like "spice" in an ingredients list... don't trust it. It's probably MSG. These additives are substances that stimulate our tongue's taste receptors, causing the foods to taste better and our brain to crave them more strongly. These toxins have been linked to headaches, muscle cramping, brain impairment, Fibromyalgia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, IBS, and other serious symptoms and disorders. Especially if you have a child with ADD, ADHD, headaches, irritability or anger, you definitely want to avoid them. They generate high levels of free radicals that cause inflammation in the body and death to our cells. These chemicals can also affect the brains of unborn children, crossing the placental barrier if consumed by the mother.
But guess what? The practice of adding these dangerous chemicals to our foods is completely legal, and has grown substantially since the late 1940's when it was first introduced. An article reads that since the '80's, Americans have consumed about 800 million pounds of aspertame. Wowza.
5 NEUROTOXINS TO AVOID IN FOODS - from bebrainfit.com (link below)
4. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
So as I continued to shop, milk was also on my list. We don't consume dairy milk, so I compared several nut milks. I was happy to find my new "go-to" after label-reading the top "natural" milks that were being offered on the shelf.
The first I looked at was Bolthouse Farms Plant Milk Protein. After noticing that the milk included 4g of added sugars, I immediately though that the list of ingredients was way too long. You may know that the list of ingredients ranges from what's used the most in the food, to the least. So whatever you see first is what the food consists the most of. In this case - water. Secondly, pea protein. Next, the list noted that 2% or less was used of cane sugar, sunflower oil, sea salt, sunflower lecithin, natural flavors, gellan gum, carob bean gum, tricalcium phosphate, vitamin a palmitate, and a list of added vitamins. I don't know about all of these ingredients, but it's inclusion of natural flavors made it a no-no for me. And I return to the shelf anything "enriched" or containing added vitamins, especially B vitamins.
The next option was So Delicious Almond Milk. The sodium content was lower than the Bolthouse milk, there weren't any added sugars and their ingredients list wasn't as long, but again, included natural flavors. Bye bye!
Lastly, I checked out Mooala. Not only is their logo so cute, but their ingredients list was short, concise, and to the point, with nothing I wanted to shy away from - yay! I was willing to pay a dollar or two more for this (what seems to be) high-quality Almond Milk. The ingredients include: water, organic almonds, organic cane sugar (a natural sweetener is better than an artificial one!), organic vanilla flavor (more on this in a second), sea salt, organic vanilla beans, and gellan gum. It's vegan-friendly (with no tricalcium phosphate which I've read can often be made from animal bones), and free from synthetic vitamins. I love this milk because you can see the little specs of vanilla bean throughout it and it tastes great!
The "organic vanilla flavor" is something I sort of had to go with my gut on. I figured that if it was something like “natural flavor”, that that’s the phrase that they’d list. But it was worded differently and was the best option so I went with. I did research it a little bit while still in the aisle (something I like to call "Grocery Googling") and found many of the articles to state that natural vanilla flavoring really does come straight from the vanilla bean, and is in the form of an extract, similar to what we'd use in baking. I also based my decision on the rest of what I gathered from the Mooala company, based on their website and packaging. They seem to be a good clean company with values based on health and honestly. And I have a pending email to them asking where they source that organic vanilla flavor and if it’s pure! So I’ll get back to you on that.
So I made the best choice I could with what I was given to choose from. Now I was at Giant. I'm excited to shop at Whole Foods, Sonnewalds (a local natural foods store near me), and maybe even Wegmans soon to see what other milks they have to offer. I could also just always make my own milk too, and sweeten it with vanilla bean or honey, or both! Mm.. Maybe in time, I'll do that. But for now, I'm choosing to stick with Mooala.
Lastly, toothpaste!! We've used Tom's brand for a while now because I love the Fennel flavor I found at our local Grocery Outlet. I myself have realized lately that even though I think I'm choosing a healthier option, it's not as good as it could be.
Ingredients in my Tom's toothpaste: calcium carbonate, water, glycerin, xlylitol, carrageenan, sodium lauryl sulfate, natural flavor, myrrh extract, propolis extract.
Come on, Kirsten - you know better! Sigh. And here's what's in YL's: water, calcium carbonate, coconut oil, sodium bicarbonate, glycerin, xylitol, xanthan gum, lecithin, stevia (which I'm not a super fan of - but at least it's a natural sweetener), and the following essential oils... peppermint, spearmint, clove, cinnamon, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary.
Stevia - an unexpected hormone disruptor!
The truth is, there are things in both of these toothpastes that I'm not completely happy about, like Stevia for example. I'm not a huge believer in the use of Stevia because in my research on the natural sweetener, I've found studies that claim it can inhibit fertility in men and women. It's an herb from South America, considered to be 100-200 times more sweet than sugar. Alisa Vitti, author of Woman Code, says that women who are already prone to hormone imbalances or irregular cycles should refrain from consuming it and switch to something like coconut sugar instead. Here's what happens - Stevia is "sweet" to the taste, so the body assumes it is getting sugar intake, and primes itself to do so. Glucose is cleared from the bloodstream and blood sugars drop, but no actual real sugar or glucose is given to the body for compensation. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol surges through the body to mobilize sugar from other sources like the liver and body tissue to bring blood glucose back up. When these stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, respond to the Stevia-inducing hypoglycemia, it damages our adrenal glands and overall health. Cutting Stevia from my diet has been hugely effective on my anxiety levels - I was consuming it in large quantities and had no idea! And lastly, though there are controversial articles on this, I've read that women (who haven't had a regular period or one at all) have cut Stevia from their diets found their period to return only a few weeks later. Also, Stevia is often processed and powdered, bleached, and altered. The leaves could also be dried using a microwave in some manufacturing facilities - no thank you!
So because I don't really know where this added ingredient comes from, though I do trust Young Living, I'm a little "ehh.." about it. But I'm really just splitting hairs here - between these two toothpastes - Young Living it is! I'm tossing my Tom's.
Here's the thing - you really truly don't know what's in something unless you make it yourself. I'd love to eventually get into making my own toothpaste and really could do it now, but I'd like to use up what I've got first. Maybe I'll try it next month!
All of this to say that reading your labels couldn't be more important. Though we'll really never know what all is in what we're consuming, all we can do is our best. My natural friends and I always say "80/20".. 80% clean, 20% whatev! Just use your best judgement, don't stress, and don't buy anything with "natural flavor"!
Was this article informative to you? What brand of cooking spray, milk, and toothpaste do you use?? Will you be "ditching & switching" now?? I'd love to hear your thoughts - please comment below!
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