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Health and Wellness

Three Most Mislabeled Products in your Grocery Store

Today more than ever before we as American consumers are being pushed to purchase products chock-full of food marketer’s favorite and most attractive food labels. We constantly hear how our bodies need the safest foods and how these “safe foods” only come from the purest of sources, where human hands have carefully tended to and manicured the holiest of products in their uncontaminated presence. When in reality, the way to continue feeding a growing and eating population is to use the agricultural advancements of today.

For those with allergies and illnesses, food labels take on a vital role in the grocery store aisles, but labels can also play the part of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We as consumers begin to ask ourselves, “why do food products have labels in the first place, and do labels mean all the un-labeled food in the store is bad for me?” Read to find out what these labels mean and the three most mislabeled products at the grocery store.

Top 3 Mislabeled Everyday Products

1. Drinks. Water, milk, sports drinks, juices and many others fluids are often associated with a food label, but could probably be better left with a simpler packaging. Seeing water that is labeled as GMO Free makes us wonder if the H20 we have been drinking has been genetically modified in previous times.

As for our dairy drinks, the Federal Food & Drug Administration does not allow for milk with hormones to be sold into the market place, so all milk we purchase at the store is hormone free.

Finally, for the ice-cold juice we drink in the mornings. Juices that are marked as being “made with natural fruit juices,” may only contain small percentages of real juice.

The Non-GMO Claim: According to the Non-GMO Project, a GMO is a genetically modified organism. GMOs are organisms that have been altered through genetic engineering to produce a more hearty and weather resistant crop. Products labeled with the Non-GMO Project label indicates the product has been approved by a nonprofit organization offering a third-party non-GMO verification program.

 

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In order for the product to be Non-GMO Project Verified, it must be evaluated for compliance within the organization’s standard, which categorizes factors into three levels of risk. Image provided by Pexels (2018). https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-bottle-and-cans-811108/

2. Produce. The second most mislabeled product in the grocery store is produce. Fruits and vegetables don’t naturally contain gluten or hormones, so why are consumers fixated on finding the vegetable bag with the most amounts of labels? I’ve never known the local produce manager to inject our fresh fruits with preservatives. Most all fruits and vegetables in the produce section could be considered all natural because they involve minimal processing. Ditching the label would still imply an all natural product.

The All-Natural Claim: According to USDA standards, if a product wishes to promote a natural label, the product must not contain artificial flavors, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and the product and its ingredients must be minimally processed.

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Products marketed as All-Natural may include non-organic and GMO products. Image provided by Pexels (2018). https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/

3. Meats. Like drinks and produce alike, meat doesn’t inherently contain traces of gluten and most meats at the butcher counter come in the most natural form possible so buying high price gluten-free ground beef or the 100% natural chicken is evidently useless.

The Gluten-Free Claim: According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, a product labeled gluten free means the product does not inherently contain gluten or does not contain an ingredient that as a whole is a gluten-containing grain. It does not contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and has not been processed to remove gluten but may contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten as long as the food product contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

And gluten-free products must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten in the food due to cross-contamination from packaging materials.

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Gluten can’t be tested for at zero percent gluten so there may be a small amount (less than 20 parts per million) of gluten in a product even if it is labeled gluten-free. Image provided by Pexels (2018). https://www.pexels.com/photo/supermarket-refrigerators-811107/

Additional Common Grocery Store Food Labels:

USDA Organic: According to the USDA, a processed or raw agricultural product containing the organic label must be certified organic, and non-organic ingredients allowed from the National List may be used, up to a combined total of 5 percent of the non-organic content. Products must state the name of the certifying agent and may include the USDA organic seal and/or an organic claim and the product label must identify organic ingredients. In other words, products that are labeled USDA organic can contain some non-organic factors.

100% Organic: According to the USDA, for a product to be USDA 100 percent organic, all ingredients must be certified organic, any processing aids or methods must be organic, and the product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may include the USDA organic seal and/or 100 percent organic claim and these products must identify all organic ingredients.

Traditional grocery stores are filled with the latest and greatest food technologies but current consumers are retreating to former days in hopes to cleanse their bodies of all impurities. The next time you’re buying drinks, meat and produce, I hope you’ll take a closer look at the packaging.

When Nature Nurtures

One in six children suffer from obesity, according to the Center for Disease Control.

This figure is not shocking as Dr. Nilda Cosco, Ph.D., of the Natural Learning Initiative, explains children spend an average of 35 hours per week in daycare. A clear culprit for this pandemic has emerged. Parents have little, if any, control over the health, exercise and nutrition of their children. The CDC also stated that while more than 12 million children regularly spend time in childcare arrangements outside the home, not all states use licensing regulations ensuring childcare facilities encourage healthful eating and physical activity. When the system that parents trust to care and nurture their children fails, the only thing left to do is change the nature of the system.

The Course of Change

In the fall of 2016, the landscape architecture program at Texas Tech partnered with the Texas Department for Public Health and Safety and the Natural Learning Initiative. To bring change to the system, they will plan, design and construct the first childcare center designed exclusively to prevent childhood obesity, promote natural learning, and stimulate self-innovation in Lubbock, Texas.

Associate Professor and Interim Department Chair of the Texas Tech Landscape Architecture program, Charles Klein, Ph.D., described this partnership as taking root during the hectic period near the end of the semester. That special time when students are hanging on every word from their professors in hopes an eager attitude will be awarded an A at the end of the term; and professors are frantically juggling grades while trying to meet the needs of every student’s nervous email. It was then Klein received a call from the TDPHS.

“It was late in the semester and that’s always hectic, but I listened,” Klein said. “ I guess I’m one of the few that actually just listened and became involved.”

Klein said the first meeting they had was a conference call while he was still teaching abroad in Spain.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I think we can handle that.’ The next thing I know, I’m not just helping with it, I’m in charge of it,” Klein said.

Preventing Obesity by Design is a product of The Natural Learning Initiative, NLI, based out of North Carolina State University. The program has gained national attention as they seek to create healthy biospheres and outdoor spaces that strive to promote healthy human development in childcare centers across the nation. TDPHS caught wind of this opportunity to incorporate a preventative approach to promoting the health and wellbeing of children and decided to take action.

“This whole idea is going to be a statewide part of the daycare accreditation system,” Klein says. “The first project is here in Lubbock.”

Meet the Team

Klein along with the help of two graduate students in the department, Afsana Sharmin and Amanda Gunter, have been tasked with designing and presenting the plans for construction of the first redesigned daycare site using the NLI’s model. The Covenant Hospital Childcare Center in Lubbock will be the first, of hopefully many, to incorporate this design.

“They were very excited that Tech has cross-disciplinary folks like exercise and sports science, nutrition and environmental design, all ranges and scopes of research,” Klein said, “This project really fit in well, and Texas Tech was willing to take on the project.”

Sharmin, a graduate student from Taka, Bangladesh, who is assisting with this project, thoughtfully explained that in dense cities, such as her home, it is often very difficult for children to go outside because there is not enough space. She said this lack of room for outdoor activities has led to a sharp rise in children substituting this time to play video games and spend time on computers.

“The first thing is to be aware of the use of technology that is restricting your child to be indoors,” Sharmin said. “We are losing our connection with nature, gradually. Being outdoors and being interactive with nature contributes not only with physical development of the child, but also the psychological development of the child.”

We are losing our connection with nature, gradually.
Afsana Sharmin

While NLI is using their research models to prevent childhood obesity through the creation of environments that encourage children to be active, the approach serves two-fold. Not only will the new Covenant Childcare Center in Lubbock promote activity, it will also serve to help children learn about nature and the environment.

Amanda Gunter, a graduate student also assisting with this project, said most children do not understand where their food comes from. The age threshold of children who benefit from childcare services exist in a pivotal stage where exposure to nature and cognitive learning would develop pre-interest in cooking, nature and biology.

“It stems from small things,” Gunter said. “Kids are more likely to experiment or figure out something that they’re not going to pick up in a classroom or just by being told. When kids are engaged with nature, they are more active and learn more about the environment.”

The Vision

While the Texas Tech landscape architecture program will be submitting the final designs for the redesigned childcare center, which currently sits on the corner of Joliet and 22nd Street in Lubbock, determining the elements to be included has been a poly-partisan effort.

“We incorporated everything,” Klein said. “We have several looping pathways. A fruits and vegetables area will help kids learn about healthy choices and a variety of activities will keep kids moving and engaged.”

Through a series of workshops and community events held in Lubbock, staff from the TDPHS, Child Protective Services, NLI and employees from the current childcare center teamed up to plan the new childcare center.

“We had an open-to-the-community discussion about why it’s important to have environments for children that aren’t just boring equipment with gravel and grass,” Gunter explained. “It’s more than that.”

Klein said he meticulously puts emphasis on not just the instruments children have to engage with, but also the pathway in which they are organically inclined to follow on the playground.

“If you have a pathway that goes from here to there, students go from here to there; even if there are different stations and activities along the way. Going outside is good, but we want them to have more activity than just being in one place at one time.”

Klein, who is jointly heading this project with guidance from NLI, is excited to turn this project into a statewide mission as more and more Texas childcare centers may adopt this design.

“We hope to turn it into a funded, applied research project,” Klein said. “Texas is so big that there may be four or five regional centers, hopefully.”

The project with the Covenant Childcare Center is the first of its kind in Texas. Klein said, as a pilot project, he hopes this kind of thinking will continue long into the future with both childcare centers across Texas and the nation adopting the methods set forth by Texas Tech and NLI.

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