A frequent question:We are told to “read every ingredients list every time”. But how can we realistically do that? The lists seem designed to be unreadable and the lists are so stuffed with jargon that we can’t possibly understand them?
The Gluten Free Guy’s response: First of all, the manufacturers are required to include an ingredients list on every package but they are not required (and most are unmotivated) to make that list readable. They are not eager to have you know about the artificial ingredients they use or the fats and sugars that give their product its taste. Customers are expected to read every ingredient label every time to see if anything, but the manufacturers are not required to inform you when changes have been made.
People who purchase food (gluten free or otherwise) needs to shop defensively. To do this, you need three tools:
- an information sheet to tell you what to avoid
- a magnifying glass and
- a backup plan when these defenses fail
Since the information sheet is the most difficult part of process, I will with the other two tools first:
- I felt rather embarrassed the first time I pulled out a magnifying glass in the middle of a crowded store. The only actual problem I have ever had is that ask to borrow it. They want to check too.
- Always double check your groceries when you get home. Mistakes happen. I send my mistakes to the local food bank — the people there will appreciate them and I will not feel that my money has been wasted.
Lists of safe and unsafe foods are readily available on-line and you may find one that fits your needs perfectly, but I think it is best to develop a personalized list to care with you. This list will reflect your needs and — because you have actually prepared the list rather than just purchasing it or printing it out — you will be able to use list quickly and effectively.
When I prepared my list, I decided that there were three categories:
- green — foods and food ingredients that I know to be safe
- yellow — foods that may or may not be safe depending on how they are prepared.
- red — food that I consider unacceptable
I downloaded the list posted at Gluten Free Living (dot com) and listed each item in the category that I considered appropriate. I did the same with the list published at Gluten Free is Life (dot com) as well as both the ‘safe‘ list and the ‘unsafe‘ list published at Celiac (dot com). I had to make decisions while doing this, particularly about what belongs belong in the ‘yellow’ list. To make my list shorter and relatively easy to read, I dropped some items from both my ‘red’ and my ‘green’ because I was certain that those items would never cause confusion. I knew exactly where they belonged. This is not a list that I can share with others, but it is a document that ‘works for me’.