William Harris, M.D. -- The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism
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Reading the Labels

Perhaps the simplest food advice is, "If man made it don't eat it." Otherwise, it is essential that you learn to read food labels.  Our Vegetarian Lifestyle Center recipes specify brand name foods because we've read their labels already, but many labels look more like chemical formulas than food.

The really low fat foods, vegetables and fruits, carry no labels. Shoppers should assume that commercial "Low-Fat and "No-Fat" labels are lies until proven otherwise. As an example there is a brand of margarine, still on the market, which claims to be "No-Fat Margarine."  However the "Nutrition Facts" on the reverse side show that there are 5 Calories in a serving and that all 5 Calories come from fat. Hence this "no-fat margarine" is actually 100% of Calories from fat. The serving size has been artfully adjusted so that slightly less than .5 gm of fat is present in a "serving". FDA rules require that the grams of fat be rounded off to the nearest half gram, in this case zero. 

Foods which list lard, vegetable oil, diglycerides, or monoglycerides on the label should also be avoided; these substances are 100% fat. Plant fats in their natural form (whole avocados, raw nuts, raw seeds) are probably beneficial, however, and may help lower cholesterol levels in patients not overweight.

Other ingredients to avoid include casein and whey (both dairy proteins with a high potential for allergic reactions), alum (contains aluminum), artificial coloring, EDTA, calcium propionate, and honey (a simple carbohydrate having only marginal advantage over refined sugar).  A compehensive list of chemical villains would require a book, so another bon mot is "If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

Dried pasta usually contains only "durum semolina wheat" and is a reasonably healthy food. Bread, another wheat product that has about the same nutrient value as pasta, is moist and will spoil rapidly before it can be sold. For this reason, commercial bakers add preservatives to lengthen the shelf life, plus a truly heroic list of salts, sweeteners, fats, dairy proteins such as whey and casein, honey, and other taste enhancers to lure customers to buy it before it spoils anyway in spite of the preservatives. However, some Pita bread and other commercial whole wheat breads occasionally pass the additives test.