I have a deep, dark secret. It’s bound to have other dietitians ready to throw me out of the club.
I don’t read labels.
I generally buy food based on price and count on my general tendency towards minimally processed ingredients for ensuring that I don’t end up with too much sodium or added sugar in our diets (although, who am I kidding, we get plenty of added sugar in our diets – I know it’s there because I’m removing it from my sugar bins by the cup- and spoonful.)
Anyway, there is one item where I routinely read the label (or at least read it when I’m deciding between stuff – then I go on autopilot.)
I read the labels on cans of fruit.
We eat canned fruit almost every day. If we were to try to get our 3-4 servings of fruit per day from fresh fruit alone, it could get pretty expensive (or pretty unvaried during certain seasons); but by using a combination of canned, frozen, dried, and (seasonal) fresh fruit, I can feed my family a good amount of fruit without breaking the bank.
But since I feed my family canned fruit on a daily basis, I have nutritional criterion for what I buy. I want as little added sugar as possible. What’s more, I want as little added sweetener as possible.
So, when possible, I try to get fruit packed in water. If that’s not available, I’ll go with fruit packed in its own juice or in extra light syrup. If fruit is packed in some other kind of juice, I want the concentration of that juice to be the same as the concentration of straight juice (so no using half the water to reconstitute fruit juice – that’s the nutritional and flavor equivalent of heavy syrup.) I only buy fruit in heavy syrup as a treat (for instance, you can’t buy canned plums any other way – and I have fond memories of my mom’s home-canned plums so I pick some up a couple times a year.)
Then came Splenda – and fruit canners decided all their dreams had come true. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, Splenda is heat-stable AND replaces sugar molecule-for-molecule. This means that they can use Splenda to get the same results as sugar (sweetness and better fruit texture) without the extra calories/added sugar that consumers don’t want. Perfect. They started using Splenda in their canned fruits.
I am not a fan.
Not to say that I’m not a fan of Splenda in general. It is a wonderful substitute for those who need to reduce sugar and still want to make their own recipes (so, it’s a great choice for diabetics who want to be able to eat their favorite dessert without having to make the rest of the meal completely carb free).
But even in the absence of the calories from sugar, I don’t want my children to grow up thinking canned fruit should be as sweet as it would be if it were canned in heavy syrup. I want to train their taste buds to think that water-packed (or “own-juices-packed”) fruit is “the way canned fruit should taste.”
But then I started using Walmart grocery pickup, where reading labels isn’t as easy as scanning visually while you’re tossing a can into your cart.
At first, I bought the Great Value fruit labeled “No Added Sugar.” But that was packed in Splenda. No go.
I switched to fruit “With 100% Fruit Juice”. It contains an extra 3 grams of sugar per serving (that’s 3/4 teaspoon) than fruit canned in water would.
But last week, I saw that there was a new item available: Great Value canned fruit packed IN WATER.
“Hooray! At last!” I thought, as I added it to my favorites and ordered some cans.
My hooray turned to disappointment when I looked at the label before I opened the first can of peaches.
These were not peaches packed in water. These were peaches packed in Splenda. They’d just changed the name of the “No added sugar” variety.