OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A local dietitian says people need to be cautious about ingredients when shopping for their food, as some nutrition and ingredient labels may not list everything.
The front of food packaging can be misleading without reading the nutrition and ingredients label. "I always tell people to be a food detective, you don't really truly know what's in it food based on the front of the label. It's best to look at the back, and look at the ingredients. That's where you're going to find out the most information," said Michelle Yates, CHI Health Registered Dietitian.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates what companies need to include in labels, but some ingredients are hidden behind umbrella terms like artificial and natural flavoring.
"Sometimes we come across things in the ingredients label that say natural flavors or artificial flavors, and that could be kind of a big question mark because we don't know what that includes,"
Yates said that although the FDA regulates food labels, the World Health Organization in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations holds the responsibility for assessing the risks ingredients have on humans.
Flavoring, whether natural or artificial, are meant to add taste, flavor or freshness, but do not add nutrition or caloric value.
According to the FDA, "The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof." Natural flavor, on the other hand, is the opposite. "The term natural flavor or natural flavoring may contain derivatives from natural spices, fruit, vegetables, or animals, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
There are so many things fit under one term, that Yates says, it's really hard to make out what is really put into food.
People with food allergies may be at risk because of the unknown ingredients packed into one term. The top 8 allergens, which are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans, are always listed separately on the food label. However, people with uncommon food allergies may not know if it's in their food.
"Lets say you're allergic to turmeric. Sometimes that can fall into the natural flavors category, and if that's a concern for you, it's kind of better just to stay away if you're really worried about it. Or even just call up the company," said Yates. If the product is enjoyable and you want to continue consuming it, the best thing to do is research and make calls.
Yates also said when going out to eat, it may be hard to be mindful of the checking ingredients in food. "A lot of restaurants post their nutrition facts online. If you know you're going out to eat, you can look up that restaurant online, see if they have nutrition information to just kind of get an idea of what you might want based on that."
Even if there is no allergy concern, Yates said there is always a healthier option on the menu, even if it isn't the healthiest thing you can eat. She is a strong believer of the 80-20 rule, which is practicing clean eating 80% of the time, and enjoying food that isn't particularly healthy 20% of the time.