What to eat or what to avoid is becoming so confusing these days. With different viewpoints emerging so quickly, something that was healthy for you yesterday can quickly turn out to be unhealthy today.
Food companies know this and in order to keep up with the trends and shifting demands they do some dodgy things - all in the name of ‘health’ and growing their business. However today we uncover 7 truths about the food industry for you, so you may make informed decisions the next time you go grocery shopping.
The colour red in many foods comes from crushed insects
Yes, you read right! A little bug powder apparently gives your food a nice shade of red. You may not know this but you just might be feasting on the ground up carcasses of boiled beetles as these are often used to give the purple and pink in fruit juices, ice cream and candy.
What to watch out for: Carmine or Cochineal extract in the ingredients list.
However, judging by the alternatives which are petroleum-derived chemicals like Red No.40 and No.3 which are linked to health problems, hyperactivity in children and cancer in animals - a little bit of crushed bugs sounds good. 
The good news is that crushed bugs have been approved and deemed safe for the use in foods by the Food and Drug Administration.Photo credit: Brian Howes
Many 'high in fibre' products are stuffed with what is essentially fake fibre
Yes, we all want some fibre these days and don’t the food companies know it! In keeping with the rising interest, you can find high fibre in all kinds of foods these days but are all fibres created equal? If you check the food label, it'll tell you how much fibre there is in the food but what it doesn't say is whether that fibre is from intact fibre or isolated fibre.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Intact fibre comes from food naturally high in fibre like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and isolated fibre is derived from other starchy foods and added to non-fibre-containing foods to make them high in fibre.
Just because you're eating high isolated fibre foods doesn't mean that you're getting the same health benefits accorded to high intact fibre natural foods. So in other words, it might be high in fibre but you’re not getting the same health benefits you’re hoping to get from the high fibre.
The American Dietetic Association Position Paper on Dietary Fibre (J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:1716-1731) says, "Whether isolated fibres provide protection against cardiovascular disease remains controversial."
What to look out for: Check the label for Maltodextrin, Inulin (chicory root), Polydextrose, Oat fibre, Resistant starch, Pectin, Gum.
It's just best to stick to foods that are naturally high in fibre: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes like lentils and dried peas and beans and taking it easy on the faker fibre foods.
'Natural' is essentially meaningless
The word 'Natural' is so overused that is has all but lost it's original meaning. The food regulatory board in Malaysia does not regulate the use of the word 'Natural' on food packaging so it's not uncommon to see many food products slapping on that label.
When you see 'Natural flavour' on your orange juice box, it just means that a laboratory has worked hard to keep the flavour as close to its 'natural' orange flavour as possible. The flavours in these 'natural' foods come mostly from a chemical plant and not a living plant.
The label, "Contains all natural ingredients", also can mean that the ingredient is a by product of petroleum - so just because it’s 'natural' doesn't always mean that it is healthy or safe.
Many companies know that consumers are willing to pay a little more for food that they think are ‘healthier’ so they slap on the label ‘natural’ and charge you more. So it pays to pay a little attention - or rather it saves to pay a little attention! Trans-fat free is a big fat liePhoto credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
According to food safety regulation of the Ministry of Health Malaysia, anything less than 0.1 grams of trans-fat per serving can be listed as trans-fat free on the label. Turns out zero trans-fat as stated on that packet of crisps doesn't necessarily mean there’s no trans-fat inside. 
How much is 0.1 grams, that the government thinks is essentially nothing? According to the Mayo Clinic, "Though that's a small amount of trans-fat, if you eat multiple servings of foods with less than 0.1 grams of trans-fat, you could exceed recommended limits."
What to look out for: Always take a look at the ingredients list. If you find partially hydrogenated [oil] on the list, there is trans-fat in the food. 
Ironically, if you find fully hydrogenated oil on the list, it usually means that it is 'trans-fat' free, however, this does not make it healthier. So, fully hydrogenating oils produce an even more solid fat virtually eliminating trans-fat. But beware, it is just one of the highly processed bad fat that can cause a lot of damage to your health. Basically, stay away from crisps!
Gluten-free food does not always mean it’s healthy food
Somehow people have taken gluten-free to mean healthy food. Everywhere people are asking for the gluten-free option thinking that they’re doing their health a favour. While it is true that people with gluten sensitivities can benefit from going gluten-free, this doesn't always make gluten-free products the healthier option. As usual the food industry has jumped to take advantage of this new trend.
The row upon row of gluten-free bread and muffins in the supermarket? They're made from highly refined, high glycemic index starch like corn starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch. They may also be loaded with sugar, additives, and since they’re highly processed, they’re also relatively low in nutrients. So, going gluten-free should mean substituting your muffin for real foods as much as possible.
Don't be fooled by 'fruit-flavoured' foods
Ah fruit flavours, why you gotta taste so good? Sometimes we want the natural orange, mango, apple juices but don't have the time to actually squeeze some fresh fruit. So what do we do? We grab a box of juice with its 'fruit-flavour' - tastes just like the real thing! Alas, none of it is real.
Produced in chemical companies that are so good at their job of stimulating the same taste sensors in the mouth as the real thing, people can hardly tell the difference. In fact, don't be surprised if your can of coffee or green tea does not have any coffee or green tea in it. So always read the label - but the best is to eat real fruits and vegetables because they contain the nutrients that you need for your health.
Fat-Free and Low-Fat are less healthy and full of sugar
When was the last time you were able to easily find a regular, unflavoured, full-fat yogurt in the supermarket? Yeap, there seems to be an epidemic of low-fat / fat-free products out there. But again as we’ve mentioned throughout the article, this doesn't mean that it’s better or healthier for you. When you take something out of a food, such as fat, you're going to have to replace it with something else so it doesn't lose its flavour. In this case, all the fat that is removed basically makes the food item unpalatable, so it is replaced with sugar and sodium. Lots of it. Which is why low-fat or fat-free yogurts always have added sugar.
And fat isn't the enemy it’s painted out to be. Healthy fats can help keep us from feeling hungry, and they've been shown to lower risk factors for heart disease. Healthy fats also improve our body's blood sugar levels and the absorption of some nutrients. Plus, it just tastes better. To eat a healthier diet, buy natural versions of food with no added sugar and with at least some healthy fats.
So be sure to read the label before you commit to buying anything. Better yet, stick to real foods and you know that you’ll be getting the best version every time.
- Liberato Portillo M.; Ana Lilia Vigueras G. "Natural Enemies of Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus Costa): Importance in Mexico" (PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on March 26, 2009. Retrieved July 14, 2005.
- Evaluation of Studies on Artificial Food Colors and Behavior Disorders in Children. www.fda.gov.pdf
- Bahagian Keselamatan and kuality makanan,http://fsq.moh.gov.my/v4/index.php/perundangan2/food-regulations-1985
- Mayo Clinic, Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health, 06 April 2014,http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114