“WTF”: Read the Label

I've become a real label reader lately, and I almost never like what I find. There are exceptions, such as when I got to Whole Foods and get a few tubs of Alexander Valley Fresh Sauerkraut, where the ingredients are: cabbage, filtered water, sea salt, and… there is no "and." That's it. That's what the label of a Real Food product reads like. It even works for dogs, where I regularly get the dried chicken breasts, duck breasts, venison and buffalo livers, and even lamb's lung. In each case, the ingredient label has only one word: chicken; duck…you get the idea.

The biggest shocker is the way HFCS or High Fructose Corn Syrup has made its way into virtually everything. I recall looking at a bottle of BBQ sauce a while back, and, you guessed it: HFCS was ingredient number one. Same with catsup. Virtually all of them have HFCS as the first, second or third ingredient.

OK, so now what? We'll, how about a "healthy alternative" sweetened with, let's say, "agave nectar?" Sounds exotic; healthy even. But at 80-90% fructose, it's not only a health fraud but is actually far worse than corn syrup.

Here's why: Not All Sugars are Equal. Stephan blogged that study too, and here's what he said:

…In one group, the drinks were sweetened with glucose, while in the other group they were sweetened with fructose.

After ten weeks, both groups had gained about three pounds. But they didn't gain it in the same place. The fructose group gained a disproportionate amount of visceral fat, which increased by 14%! Visceral fat is the most dangerous type; it's associated with and contributes to chronic disease, particularly metabolic syndrome, the quintessential modern metabolic disorder (see the end of the post for more information and references). You can bet their livers were fattening up too.

The good news doesn't end there. The fructose group saw a worsening of blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity. They also saw an increase in small, dense LDL particles and oxidized LDL, both factors that associate strongly with the risk of heart attack and may in fact contribute to it. Liver synthesis of fat after meals increased by 75%. If you look at table 4, it's clear that the fructose group experienced a major metabolic shift, and the glucose group didn't. Practically every parameter they measured in the fructose group changed significantly over the course of the 9 weeks. It's incredible.

And now I come to the inspiration for today's post, which is Mark Sisson's post for today: WTF?… Where's The Fat?! where he takes you on a label reading roller coaster that ought to make you sick to your stomach. And, for those who want to see Mark at his sarcastic best, this is the post for you.

…What manner of culinary wizardry can make a delicious, creamy version of ranch dressing without all that artery-clogging fat? They must be doing something right, because they almost outnumber their full-fat counterparts on the shelves. And the people I see frequenting the aisles are always trim, slim, and full of vitality. Plus, what with the nationwide rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease plummeting to all-time lows just as the fat-free movement finally seems to be picking up steam, I think we can thank the good folks of Kraft, Best Foods, and Lean Cuisine for their commitment to public health.

And so I set out to peruse the aisles of the local supermarket for evidence of these shining beacons of health and chemical ingenuity. I hoped to discover the secrets so that I might recreate the delectable food products at home and avoid messing up my kitchen with “recipes” and “raw meat” and “food.”

Mark takes you on quote a photo tour through supermarket isles, and in the end, comes away as most of us would and do, now.

My trip to the inner aisles of the grocery store left me in a state of disbelief. I knew what I was in for, but I still came out amazed. I’m amazed that people can continue to deceive themselves into thinking what they’re eating is actually food, let alone healthy food, and I’m amazed at the cunning of food marketing that plays off this deceit…

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. David on May 27, 2009 at 17:54

    My thirteen year old daughter likes peanut butter. I used to as well, but when you abandon bread it gets a bit hard to eat. Anyhow we went shopping and I had her read the ingredient lists. Skippy, Kraft, you name it. It didn't take her long to figure out that a couple of brands were actually creamed peanuts, while others were something else with peanuts included. She knew what to buy.

    As for HFCS, yep, what can a person say other than wow. Look for "corn solids" too.

    The kids still eat cereal, but all we have is the "better" stuff. Yes, the "healthy" cereals. OK puffed wheat and rice don't have too many other ingredients. Check out Special K. Ummm, isn't this supposed to be the THE cereal for halth conscious eaters. Oy. Raisin Bran? Sit down before you look at the ingredients.


  2. Paleo_princess on May 27, 2009 at 18:00

    "for those who want to see Mark at his sarcastic best…"

    Minor detail – that was a post by Worker Bee, not Mark himself.

  3. Katelyn on May 27, 2009 at 18:42

    That is another reason I LOVE, love, love being ZeroCarb. Everything has one ingredient: beef, pork, butter, egg, lamb. The only thing I eat with more than one ingredient is lower sodium bacon, which is beef, water, salt.

  4. Monica on May 27, 2009 at 14:45

    "While you may hear the word and think of robust maidens with Popeye-forearms slaving over a barrel of fresh milk, that’s not what passes for churning these days."


  5. Richard Nikoley on May 27, 2009 at 18:25

    Ah. Did not know that.

  6. Elli on May 27, 2009 at 19:52

    I totally know what you mean… about food these days. It seems the best way to eat is to grow and harvest your own food if you can…

  7. ethyl d on May 28, 2009 at 08:55

    Another depressing grocery store exercise is to look at what people have in their shopping carts while you wait in line to check out. It's sad.

  8. Bob r on May 28, 2009 at 16:10

    "It even works for dogs, where I regularly get the dried chicken breasts, duck breasts, venison and buffalo livers, and even lamb's lung. In each case, the ingredient label has only one word: chicken; duck…you get the idea."

    Where do you get dog food like this?

  9. Richard Nikoley on May 28, 2009 at 11:20

    Oh, it's a big one for me. When at a local supermarket at Costco, it's amazing and always correlates: fat = lots of "food" in boxes and sweet drinks in bottles. Very little fresh food. At Costco, quantities are as enormous as the people.

    Then you have the death-warmed-over skinny fat people at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

  10. Richard Nikoley on May 28, 2009 at 16:31

    Strangely enough, Costco typically has huge bags of the chicken for the best price. The others we get at local independent or local chain pet stores, so check out what you have in your area.

  11. Anna on May 29, 2009 at 11:06

    Once your food paradigm shifts, it's hard to go into supermarkets. There just isn't enough edible food to make the trip worth while, unless you are desperate. Try walking the aisles and see if you can maximize the number of aisles on which you purchase NO items.

    The last time I went into a conventional supermarket, I think I went down every aisle once and only bought some raw chicken and chicken liver for my cat in the meat dept (to avoid a special trip to the place I usually buy chicken for the cat); a few cans of full fat coconut milk (no gums or preservatives) from the International Food aisle; some canned sardines, salted and packed in olive oil; canned wild caught salmon with only salt; a hand of ginger in the produce section; and a huge bag of baking soda (for cleaning).

    Between a produce subscription with a local CSA farm; buying meat custom-cut in bulk from ranchers; buying eggs weekly from a local woman who keeps chickens at her semi-rural "horsey" property; local Farmer's Markets now and then for seafood, fruits, raw nuts, local olive and avocado oils; freshly roasted coffee from the local coffeehouse, etc., I have little need to go into supermarkets now (or drugstores). A quick trip to the natural foods store provides things like coconuts and misc items (though I avoid many of the aisles there, too, as they are full of organic processed junk products).

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