Jun 18, 2013 / by Ann-Marie Giglio / No Comments

Read the Label!

If we are going to make good choices about food, our choices have to be informed by facts.  Shopping the perimeter of a grocery store, the facts are pretty clear.  We can rely on our senses.   Ripe or unripe?  Fresh or old? Firm or mushy?

But to make informed choices in the aisles , we have to read the nutrition label on food packages.  Here’s the bad news.  Those labels aren’t completely honest, and they are deliberately difficult.  Personally, I try to stay away from the center of the store, but sometimes I need something non-perishable, for example, for road trip.  So I need a package.

When dealing with a package, just skip the front.  It’s simply a commercial–a pitch to get you to buy it.  Don’t waste your time.  

Instead, turn the package over and over until you find 2 things:  the Nutrition Facts label, and the ingredient list.  

Let’s first look at 1 of the numbers we get in the Facts box. Specifically, the serving size.

Do you actually use only 1 tablespoon of salad dressing on your salad?  (BTW, if you’ve pulled a salad from a fast food window,  the dressing package holds 2.5 SERVINGS of dressing.  So if you’ve squeezed the entire package on the salad, and patted yourself on the back for choosing a salad, there’s a good chance you’ve consumed somewhere around 5-600 EXTRA  calories by eating that salad with all the dressing.  And we haven’t even begun to discuss the dressing’s ingredients.)

How about crackers?  Who eats 6?  Cookies–2.  Really?  You get the idea.

But perhaps the most important thing to know about the serving size is since the FDA has mandated disclosure of trans-fats on food labels (it must be reported if it totals more than 0.5 gms per serving) some manufacturers are reducing the serving size to keep the gms/serving just below 0.5 gms, which means 0.49 gms per serving.

Pay close attention because the last thing you want to ingest is trans-fats.  A trans-fat is a fat molecule (a lipid) with an extra hydrogen atom shoved in to make it stable so it won’t rot or oxidize (i.e., combine with oxygen, like the rusting process of steel).  That’s where the name “hydrogenated” comes from.

If you put a dish full of trans fats on your deck, no animal will eat it, and six months from now, it will not have changed.  That stability is what makes hydrogenated fats so attractive to food manufacturers who need products that can sit on warehouse shelves for weeks–perhaps months.

If the serving size is 6 crackers and you ate 12, you may have eaten nearly a gram of this fat.  This adds up quickly in your body because that kind of fat isn’t going anywhere soon.  In fact,  it will be causing chronic inflammation in your body, the underlying factor in Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

That’s one reason I read the ingredient label first.  It’s my first test for nutrition.  If you read the ingredients, and see anything that might be an altered fat:  anything hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, fractionated, etc, PUT IT BACK ON THE SHELF AND WALK AWAY!

Also, the ingredients are listed by proportion, from highest to lowest. If the first 3 ingredients are some sort of sugar (cane, high fructose corn, date sugar, rice bran syrup, etc), put it back on the shelf and yes, walk away!   Hint:  look VERY carefully at any “energy” bar.  In fact tack a look at some of those General Mills “nutritious” breakfast cereals.  That’s a new twist. They are using a whole grain, but check out the sugar load! 

Mostly, use common sense.  If you’re buying chocolate chip cookies, and you’ve ever made them from scratch, you know they should contain flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking soda, chocolate chips.  That’s all.  So if the ingredient list has 14 items and you can’t pronounce half of them, put it back on the shelf and walk away!
That’s where I usually start.  If the ingredient list contains whole foods and the real ingredients, I continue reading.  

Fiber should come from the whole grains or dried fruit or veggies.  Look for at least 2 gms/serving.  Otherwise, it’s pretending to be fiber-rich.
Grains should be “whole grains.”  Whole wheat.  Whole oats.  If it doesn’t say whole in the ingredient list, it’s not.    

Next week:  Math!

All my clients learn this and more.  If you’d like to cut through the noise about nutrition, and to work with us here at CoreMatters, call today for your free consultation:  404-435-6367