Article by Sydney Gaeth | Photography by Neil Harman | Owl Staff

Somewhere in the mess of advertisements that claim to “blast those last few pounds” or help you “lose 10 pounds in 60 seconds” there is the truth.

For the longest time, I was one of those people who took marketing as the whole truth. Yes, of course the Welch’s fruit snacks are obviously 100% fruit and nothing else. Yes, the Special K products will make you happy and skinny–especially if you eat them for every meal!

I couldn’t understand why I looked and felt the same after switching to “healthier” options or why my mouth felt like it was caked with sugar after I’d just had an “all-natural” granola bar. I realized that the calorie count printed on the wrapper was just a small part in determining if something was good for me or not.

I needed to research to find out what “nutritious” was.

One of the first things I learned was to always notice the number of ingredients. According to The American Heart Association, the ingredients listed first are the most abundant. If there is a block of ingredients listed, it is safe to assume that the majority of them are additives.

Garden of Eatin’ Blue Corn Tortilla Chips have three ingredients: organic blue corn, sunflower oil, and sea salt. These are automatically a better snack option than Lay’s Oven Baked Original Chips which have dried potatoes, corn starch, corn oil, sugar, salt, soy lecithin, dextrose, and annatto extract (color).

The Baked Lay’s boast “80% less fat” across the front of the bag. How misleading.

Organic foods are usually a great bet because they limit the danger of consuming pesticides and additives while benefitting the environment, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“The word ‘organic’ refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products…Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution,” the Mayo Clinic continues.

According to Web MD, “Ingredients that end in ‘ose’ are all forms of sugar.” Dextrose, sucrose, fructose, and the myriad of others should be avoided. reports, “sugar lowers your immunity and robs your bones of minerals.”

Sorbitol comes from fruits, corn, and seaweed. Consuming it can disrupt the digestive system by causing diarrhea, bloating, and gas. It can be found in energy bars like FitCrunch, as well as imitation crabmeat, and cigarettes.

Trans-unsaturated fatty acids, or trans fats, are another group of sneaky ingredients. They are found in many products to make them last longer and taste better, according to the American Heart Association.

“Partially hydrogenated oil” listed in the ingredients means there are trans fats regardless of what the nutrition label reads. According to, the nutrition label will report 0 trans fats but there is still allowed to be at least .5 grams per serving.

Additionally, companies often slip in ingredients you would never dream could be edible.

Sometimes added to foods for the sake of looking more palatable is L-Cysteine (a.k.a duck feathers, human hair, or hog hair).

L-Cysteine is used to fluff bread to make it softer and appear fresher. Bread should only have a few ingredients in it (flour, water, yeast…) and duck feathers certainly aren’t one that bakers should use.

Ezekiel bread is made of organic sprouted wheat, filtered water, organic malted barley, organic sprouted rye, organic sprouted bar- ley, organic sprouted oats, organic sprouted millet, organic sprouted corn, organic sprouted brown rice, fresh yeast, organic wheat gluten and sea salt. No feathers or hair.

“I wouldn’t mind an extra dash of protein from that cochineal bug but my vegetarian friends should know what’s in the drink before I offer them a sip.”

L-Cysteine isn’t the only thing that may shock you about your food.

In fact, Starbucks was questioned in 2012 for using crushed cochineal bugs as a dye in their popular Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino.

According to CBS News, a spokesperson for Starbucks reported, “While the strawberry base isn’t a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes.”

Personally, I wouldn’t mind an extra dash of protein from that cochineal bug, but my vegetarian friends should know what’s in the drink before I offer them a sip.

However, at least Starbucks made the move away from artificial dyes such as Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1.

Artificial dyes are found in numerous amounts of foods and are linked to allergy, hyperactivity in children and certain types of cancer, according to

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Food dyes also serve to deceive consumers: they are often used to simulate the presence of healthful, colorful fruits and vegetables.

Food coloring can be found in items ranging from canned jalapeños to Doritos.

Another ingredient that flies under the radar is propylene glycol, or antifreeze. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), propylene glycol affects the dermal, renal and respiratory systems.

It is a synthetic additive that is used to absorb excess water and is used as antifreeze in paint, plastics, medicines, cosmetics, and food products, according to the ATSDR.

Carrageenan, a derivative of seaweed, is also a questionable additive that is raising some concerns.

According to the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity, carrageenan can be found in nonfat or low-fat foods, dairy replacements, chocolate milk, deli meats, food bars, and frozen pizzas.

The Cornucopia Institute, a non- profit organization for primarily US-based organic and sustainable agriculture, found, “animal studies have repeatedly shown that food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors.”

The nutrition label is useful for more than something to stare at while you much on a bowl of cereal. Learn what ingredients mean to become aware of those “sneaky eats” that go unnoticed.

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