Mable, Mable what’s on that Label ??   

Of the workshops that I present, this one is probably the most requested. In today’s world of confusing and very often deceptive nutritional advertising, it isn’t easy knowing if we are making the best choices for ourselves and our families.


In order to know what we are really buying, we need to understand how to read and properly interpret the ingredient list and nutrition information label on food packages. You may be shocked when you begin to discover what’s really in the food you buy! Be a detective, knowledge is power. The more saavy and informed you are as a consumer, the better you’ll be able to choose healthy, wholesome products.


At a Glance

  • Choose foods with fewer ingredients (preferably 5 ingredients or less) generally, the shorter the ingredient list, the less processed the food.
  • If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Or to quote Michael Pollen in his book, In Defense of Food, don’t eat anything your grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food.

Pay attention to serving size, often something you may think is a single serving is actually labeled as two or even three servings.

Look at fat content and go for zero trans fats whenever possible. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils and have been directly linked to inflammation and heart disease.

Read the sodium content and choose low-sodium or no-sodium foods. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium for healthy adults is 2,300 mg per day, which is the equivalent of one teaspoon. It is easy to exceed this guideline because salt, like sugar is comes in many added forms and under names we often don’t recognize.

Look at sugar content and aim for no more than 26 grams (6 teaspoons) per day. Nutritionists recommend limiting added sugar to 4 teaspoons per day for women and 6 teaspoons per day for men. For reference, 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of granulated sugar.

Steer clear of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine, as well as artificial flavorings and colorings.

Avoid labels that contain chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors.


Deceptive Marketing

The front of a food package has one purpose: to make you buy the product. It is not always fact-based and does not indicate the healthiness of the food inside. Have you ever looked at the front of a package and read the words “Natural” or “Heart Healthy”, only to look at the ingredients list and find it is packed with salt, sugar, and chemicals you can’t even pronounce? Within the food industry, the word “natural” is painted with a very broad brush and no actual definition for which they can be held accountable. So, in the end, it is left to us to police what we are purchasing.

The food industry has become very masterful at misleading us. Everything from the color of the packaging; green invites us to believe that what is inside is “green” as well. I recently saw a package of precut celery labeled as gluten free, I was pretty surprised at the bold upsell. Labeling such as fat or sugar free really isn’t. By FDA guidelines, they are allowed to contain .05 grams per serving leaving us to do the math – because who eats just one serving?

**Choosing products that are USDA Organic and/or GMO Project Verified whenever possible will help to ensure that you are making the healthiest choice.


Tricks for Choosing Healthy Foods

Whole Grains:  Particularly for cereals, crackers, pasta, and breads, the word “whole” should appear as the first or second ingredient, whether it is whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, or another grain. The packaging should also state “whole grain” as opposed to “made from whole grain” One way to double-check is to look at the fiber content on the nutrition facts panel; true whole-grain foods should deliver at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Hidden Sugars:  Avoid foods with sugar listed in the first three ingredients, and be aware that “sugar” has many names, many of which add calories without boosting nutritional value, and can cause weight gain, inflammation and diseases such as diabetes. Ingredients that end in the word “ose” are all forms of sugar, such as fructose, sucrose and dextrose. Other sugar sources are honey, maple syrup, agave and corn sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Partially Hydrogenated Oils:  Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats, which have been shown to be even more harmful to arteries than unhealthy saturated fats. Foods can be labeled “trans-fat free” even if they contain up to half a gram of trans fats per serving. Look on the ingredients list. If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fats.

Artificial Sweeteners: Such as Sucralose, Saccharin and Aspartame I tell all my clients to AVOID artificial sweeteners — they can actually increase your craving for sweets, increase weight gain, are loaded with chemicals, and are often the source of bloating, diarrhea, and other symptoms. The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns that some artificial sweeteners can be dangerous in large quantities. Beware of diet sodas, when consumed regularly, could add up quickly to a “large quantity”.

Sodium Nitrite:  Used as a preservative in meats, some research indicates that sodium nitrate may pose a cancer risk; another recent study suggested that nitrites and nitrates could interact with medications to damage DNA.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends limiting the amount you consume by choosing nitrite-free products whenever possible.

Artificial Food Coloring: Research suggests that food colorings may pose health risks. Artificial colorings are found in cereals, candy, soda, and snack foods and even gummy vitamins –  unfortunately these are foods most often targeted with children in mind. They are listed on the ingredients label by their color name, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Red 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and Orange B.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): MSG is an additive commonly used in Asian foods but many companies and restaurants add it to food to enhance flavor and extend freshness. Using it for lettuce in salad bars is a common one. Some people experience what is called “MSG symptom complex,” which can produce reactions such as headache, flushing, sweating, fluttering heartbeat, and shortness of breath.


The moral of the story…..

Take the time to read the labels and do your best – it’s all a learning process. Avoid undesirable ingredients by eating as many fresh and unprocessed foods as possible. Shop at a Farmer’s Market or join a local CSA. It’s also a great way to create community and support your local farmers. You’ll be glad you did, you’ll begin to feel better and be one step closer to being both healthy and happier!



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